The No. 16-ranked Eagles start their second five-game homestand of the season with a Saturday night contest against Lawrence Tech.
Lawrence Tech (6-8) at #16 Ashland (8-0)
Saturday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.
GLIAC REPRIEVE: The Ashland University men's basketball team will get a three-game break from Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play over the holiday break, beginning Saturday night when the Eagles take on Lawrence Tech at Kates Gymnasium.
HOME AGAIN: The Eagles will play their next five games at Kates Gymnasium, having finished up a two-game road trip last Saturday. They were the only two road games for Ashland in a 12-game stretch from Nov. 11 to Jan. 10. Ashland plays Lawrence Tech, Kentucky Christian and Westminster (Pa.) before the New Year. The Eagles will resume GLIAC play Jan. 3 and 5 at Kates Gymnasium against GLIAC North foes Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan, respectively.
ON A ROLL: The Eagles ran their season-opening winning streak to eight games last week with double-digit wins at Grand Valley State and Davenport. Ashland's 8-0 start is matches the third-best start in program history. The last AU team to do it was the 2015-16 squad the ended the program's 25-year NCAA Tournament drought with a 25-6 overall record. It is the sixth 8-0 start to a season for the Eagles. Ashland was 9-0 to begin the 1989-90 season and went 15-0 to open the 1990-91 campaign.
MOVIN' ON UP: With their two road wins last week, the AU men climbed three spots in the NABC Division II Coaches' Poll, slotting in at No. 16 in Tuesday's rankings. The Eagles were ranked No. 19 in their debut in the rankings the prior week. Prior to that, Ashland's last national ranking in the coaches' poll was in the last rankings of the 2015-16 season when the Eagles came in at No. 12. The Eagles also debuted in the D2SIDA media poll with a No. 24 ranking. Ashland is the only GLIAC team listed in either poll.
GLIAC SOUTH POTW: Junior guard Rodrick Caldwell has quickly acclimated himself to this Ashland team after transferring from Bowling Green State. The 5-foot-10 Dayton, Ohio product leads the team in scoring, averaging 18 points per game. Last week, he added a piece of hardware as well, winning GLIAC South Player of the Week honors for his performance in Ashland's GLIAC road wins. Caldwell averaged 20.5 points in the two games, shooting 12-22 (55 percent) from the field and 10-17 (59 percent) from 3-point range. He hit five 3-pointers in each of the games and now ranks sixth in the GLIAC with 24 3-pointers on the season. He also averaged 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists last week, collecting a career-high seven boards at Grand Valley State. Caldwell is the only AU player to score in double figures in all eight games this season. He is the second straight Eagle to win GLIAC South honors after Aaron Thompson won the award the previous week.
COMING UP CLUTCH: Caldwell also displayed his ability to hit shots when his team needed a big play. Against the Lakers, he stopped an 11-2 run by the hosts that cut Ashland's lead to 66-63 by burying a long 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:44 remaining to stretch the margin back to six points. The game never got closer than that. In Saturday's win at Davenport, the Panthers were surging as they tried to overcome a double-digit deficit. They had the game down to two points, 58-56, with under five minutes to play when Caldwell sank a 3-pointer to give Ashland a 61-56 lead that grew from there.
LAST LOOK AT LAST WEEK: Ashland took on two teams that were off to fantastic early-season starts in Grand Valley State and Davenport and came away with a couple double-digit wins. GVSU and DU had a combined 14-2 record going into each game. The Lakers scored the first eight points on Thursday before Ashland stormed back and held a five-point halftime lead. The Eagles did not trail in the second half, going on to win, 74-63. Against Davenport, the Eagles led by 21-5 and 30-8 counts before the Panthers got back in the game in the second half. Caldwell's 3-pointer stopped the run with under five minutes to play and the Eagles won, 72-60.
ON LOCKDOWN: The Eagles, who have a reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the country, continued that trend last week. They held GVSU to just 35 percent (20-57) shooting from the field and just 29 percent (6-21) shooting from 3-point range. Ashland was even better against Davenport, holding the Panthers to an 18 percent (4-22) mark from long distance. As a team, the Eagles are holding opponents to a GLIAC low 29.1 percent mark from 3-point range and are giving up just 7.1 3-pointers per game this season.
LEADING REBOUNDER: With the Eagles forcing so many missed shots of their opponents, they need someone to clean up the glass and get moving in transition. That player has been redshirt-sophomore guard Aaron Thompson. The 6-foot-3 Toledo, Ohio native leads the GLIAC at 9.6 rebounds per game – a figure that ranks 22nd in the nation. He also ranks third in Division II with eight defensive rebounds per game. It has been a breakout season for Thompson, who is scoring 10.5 points per game while ranking fourth in the GLIAC in field goal percentage (62.3). He also carries a tough defensive load for Ashland, usually guarding the opponent's leading perimeter player.
SERIES VS. LAWRENCE TECH: The Eagles and Blue Devils are even in their all-time series, 3-3, though the programs have not met since Dec. 14, 1963 – almost exactly 55 years ago. Ashland won that contest, 87-73, at the New College Gym under head coach Bob Stokes. The Eagles have won the last three games against the Blue Devils, who are a member of the NAIA. Lawrence Tech won the teams' first game, 70-53, on Dec. 16, 1947 in Detroit.
HARAWAY STEADY: The Eagles got steady production last week from Caldwell's backcourt-mate, senior Ben Haraway. He averaged 15.5 points, four rebounds and three assists in the two games last week, while shooting 55 percent (12-22) from the field. He also hit 4-7 (57 percent) from 3-point range. The two guards have combined to average 31.3 points per game in the first eight games of the season.
SIXTH MAN: Senior forward Phil Frentsos has shown remarkable consistency as the first man off head coach John Ellenwood's bench. With the exception of the first game of the season, Frentsos has scored at least six points, corralled at least two rebounds and made at least two baskets in every contest. For the season, he is averaging seven points and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.
PICKED FIRST: The Eagles were picked to win the GLIAC South by the league's coaches, earning 10 of the 12 first-place votes in the division. Grand Valley State was picked second and Davenport third. Defending national champion Ferris State was picked to defend its GLIAC North crown with nine of the 12 first-place votes. Northern Michigan had the other three.