By JOHN KEREZY, Eyeoncleveland.com founder
JAN 24, 2023 — What’s at stake in men’s college basketball when Mount Union travels to John Carroll tomorrow night?
It’s not a “for all the marbles” contest, but when the No. 3-ranked NCAA Division III (D3) team in the country, the Purple Raiders, go up against the No. 8-ranked team in the Blue Streaks, there will be a lot on the line.
Both teams are tied atop the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) with 9-1 marks. So, the victor of Wednesday’s contest could well gain an inside track to hosting the OAC’s conference’s championship tournament Feb. 21-25. Wednesday’s winner could possibly have an opening weekend at home in the 64-team NCAA Div. III playoff field in March. The triumphant team might also draw additional home games in the playoffs, and thus an inside lane for a possible trip to Fort Wayne and the NCAA Division III national semifinals and finals, slated for March 17-18.
That’s a lot more important than the 54 miles separating Mount Union’s program in Alliance from John Carroll’s program in University Heights. Both coaches and teams know this well.
“I think this game is awesome for the Ohio Athletic Conference,” says Mike Fuline, 12th year head of Mount Union’s 16-1 Purple Raiders. “Winning on the road in the OAC is brutal so this will be an extreme challenge. We want to compete and defend, and whatever happens, happens!” This is an opportunity for people to see first-hand the talent it takes to compete at the highest D3 level,” adds Pete Moran, in his 6th season as JohnCarroll’s head coach.
There’s also an element of revenge in this rematch of the top OAC teams. John Carroll has lost eight games in a row to Mount Union, including its only conference loss this season, a 75-72 setback on Dec. 7. The Blue Streaks were ahead by as many as 8 points in that contest, so JCU will be seeking to settle a couple of scores on Wednesday.
Some Top Student Athletes
Both John Carroll and Mount Union will go 8-10 players deep in tomorrow’s contest, and those basketballers will probably see at least 10 minutes of action. It’s rare for either coach to put in a key player for 30 minutes or more in any game so far this season.
The Blue Streaks have four players who combine to average 51 of the team’s 81.4 points per game average. Tops cores is Luke Frazier, a 6-6 sophomore who has a 17.4 scoring average. After him is sophomore Luke Chicone, a 5-10 sophomore point guard who is at 14.3 ppg and who leads the team with 85 assists.
Behind them is Chase Toppin, a 6-1 sophomore guard averaging 10.2 ppg, and Will Yontek, a 6-7 sophomore averaging 9 ppg. Topping led John Carroll with 20 points scored in the Dec. 7 loss to Mt. Union. Yontek is third on the team with 4.6 rebounds per game (rpg), behind Luka Eller (5.0 rpb) and Henry Raynor 4.8 rpb.
Like John Carroll, Mt. Union has four starters who combine to average 52 points of the team’s 82.7 points per game. Leading the way is Christian Parker. Collen Gurley. Darrell Newsome. Jeffery Mansfield. Parker, a 6-6 junior forward, averages 18.4 ppg.
Gurley, a 6-3 senior guard, averages 13.6 ppg. Newsome, a 6-3 graduate student, has a 10.6 ppg average and made five steals in the win over John Carroll. Senior guard Mansfield averages 9.1 ppg. Breadon Poole averages 5 rpb, and he and Parker gathered 15 rebounds between them the last time these two teams tangled. John Carroll will also keep a keen eye on Christian Painter, who scored 20 points in Mt. Union’s win over John Carroll last month.
One area where Mt. Union has an advantage over John Carroll is college experience. The Purple Raiders will probably start a junior, a senior, and two graduate students in its starting lineup tomorrow night. John Carroll will have at least four sophomores in its starting five.
Coaches’ Keys to Victory
For John Carroll to emerge triumphant on Wednesday night, the Blue Streaks have to return to the basics. “We have to defend, rebound, and keep our spacing on the offensive side of the ball,” Coach Moran says about opposing Mt. Union.
“We have been executing in special situations a lot better lately, especially end-of-game situations,” he adds. “Our ball movement has improved. We really just have to keep our focus on keep getting better and better each and every time out.”
For Mount Union to extending its winning streak to 12 games, it needs to step up on defense. “Our willingness to play team defense lately has been good, but not great,” Fuline says. “We also need to win the rebounding battle, then we need to knock down open shots.
“We will also need to executive much better offensively than we did the first game.”
Want to see this game?
Driving to John Carroll: The game begins at 7 p.m. in the DeCarlo Varsity Center at John Carroll in University Heights, Ohio. Exact address: 2524 S Belvoir Blvd, University Heights, OH 44118 (arrive early).
Streaming the Game: John’s Carroll’s live stream of the game is scheduled to begin 30 minutes before tipoff. Here is the link to it: https://jcusports.com/sports/2013/8/29/fan_0829130037.aspx?id=583
All photos courtesy of the Athletic Departments of Mount Union and John Carroll Universities.