NewsMVNU Wraps up Outstanding Year with NCCAA Runner-up Finish
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Coming into the 2003-2004 season, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University men’s basketball team was viewed as being a program in the midst of a rebuilding year. The Cougars had graduated seven players over the two previous seasons that had combined to lead the team to a 44-24 record, and MVNU’s roster was comprised of returning players who had combined for just 39 collegiate starts.
However, behind career years from every returning player on the Cougars’ roster and important contributions from the team’s four freshmen, MVNU posted an impressive 23-13 overall record and finished tied for second in the highly competitive American Mideast Conference South Division with a 13-3 mark after being picked to finish eighth in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Cougars also advanced to the championship game of the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament for the second time in three years before falling in the title game.
"This was a very successful season by a special group of young men,” said MVNU head coach Scott Flemming, who was named the NCCAA East Region Coach of the Year. "It may have been a surprise season for most everyone but our players. Although we came into the season with very few experienced players, the chemistry on this team overshadowed our weaknesses. To finish the season ranked 24th (in the NAIA Division II poll) and make it all the way to the NCCAA national championship game was a great accomplishment for this team.”
After winning five of their first six games to open the season, the Cougars dropped three of their next four contests to stand out 6-4. Then, MVNU won nine of their next 12 games as the team began AMC South Division play to improve its overall record to 15-7 with a 7-3 AMC South Division mark. One of the highlights during this stretch was an overtime victory at the University of Rio Grande - only the Cougars’ third win ever at Rio Grande.
Following back-to-back losses to Cedarville University and Ohio Dominican University, MVNU won its final six AMC South Division games to close the regular season with a 21-10 overall record to go with the 13-3 AMC South Division mark. The Cougars swept the season series from Rio Grande for only the second time ever, and MVNU also swept Shawnee State University, Walsh University, Wilberforce University, and Tiffin University.
By finishing second in the AMC South Division, MVNU earned the top seed from the AMC South Division in the AMC Tournament. The Cougars hosted Geneva (Pa.) College in the first round and fell 96-83.
The team then turned its focus to making the NCCAA National Tournament for the third straight year. Despite losing to Nyack (N.Y.) College 72-70 in the NCCAA East Region Tournament championship game, MVNU still received an at-large berth in the eight-team NCCAA National Tournament, where the Cougars were seeded third.
In the first round of the NCCAA National Tournament, MVNU held off sixth-seeded Central Baptist (Ark.) College 83-73. Then, in the semifinals, the Cougars shot 58.3 percent from the field and held second-seeded Bethel (Ind.) College nearly 22 points below its scoring average as MVNU prevailed 79-66 in its most complete performance of the year to advance to the championship game.
Despite falling 87-69 to top-seeded Christian Heritage (Calif.) College in the championship game, the Cougars had nothing to hang their heads about as the team finished with an outstanding 23-13 overall record to mark the seventh time in the past eight years that MVNU has reached the 20-win mark.
Individually, the Cougars were led by a senior class that equaled their point and rebound production of their entire careers during the 2003-2004 campaign. Leading the way was guard Andy Dunn, who averaged a team-best 20.1 points per game to finish 19th in scoring in NAIA Division II. Dunn, who entered the season with just 590 career points, finishes his career ranked 18th on the MVNU all-time scoring list with 1,293 points.
Dunn led all NAIA Division II players with a school-record 150 three-pointers made and finished second in all divisions of college basketball this year behind only Billy Shivers, who made 153 treys at the University of Redlands (Calif.). Dunn finishes his career ranked fourth in school history with 307 career three-pointers made.
Dunn also set a new school record by shooting 92.9 percent at the free throw line (117-for-126) this season to finish second in NAIA Division II in that category. In addition, he set the Cougars’ new career free throw shooting mark by finishing his career shooting 88.1 percent at the charity stripe (170-for-193).
Among Dunn’s many honors this season, he was named to the AMC South Division First Team, the NCCAA East Region First Team, the NAIA Division II Honorable Mention All-American Team, and the NCCAA All-American First Team. He was also selected as the Pete Maravich Award recipient as the NCCAA Player of the Year. In addition, he was named to the NAIA Division II and NCCAA All-America Scholar-Athlete Teams and the CoSIDA Academic All-District IV First Team.
Senior center Matt Hilbert also finished his career in fine fashion as he averaged 9.7 points and a team-leading 8.9 rebounds, which ranked him 22nd among NAIA Division II players. His 320 total rebounds tied for the second-highest single-season total in school history, and he was just four rebounds shy of the single-season school record. He also finishes his career ranked eighth in school history with 638 rebounds. For his efforts, he was an AMC South Division Honorable Mention pick and an NCCAA East Region Second Team selection.
Senior guard Chip Wilson averaged 1.8 points and was third on the team with 71 assists. He ranked seventh among NAIA Division II players with a +2.84 assist-to-turnover ratio. Meanwhile, senior forward Dan Weston added 3.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Both players were named to the NCCAA All-America Scholar-Athlete Team with Weston also earning NAIA Division II All-America Scholar-Athlete and CoSIDA Academic All-District IV Second Team honors.
"This may have been one of the strongest group of captains I have ever had,” said Flemming of his four seniors. "They led by example and they kept all of our young players accountable to our system and work ethic. They were teachable, hard-working, and unselfish. Hopefully, our younger players have learned from them what it takes to compete at a high level and to lead others to do so as well. Andy, Matt, Chip, and Dan have definitely left their mark on this program.”
Junior wing Benji Hall averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game to go with a team-leading 25 blocked shots as he started 28 games. Sophomore point guard Alan Bock contributed 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds per game and led the team with 150 assists while committing only 60 turnovers as he ranked 17th in NAIA Division II with a +2.50 assist-to-turnover ratio. Sophomore guard Andrew Thompson also contributed 7.2 points per game and was second on the squad with 46 three-pointers made while shooting 85.7 percent at the free throw line (36-of-42).
The freshman class was led by post Mark Hess, who averaged 12.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in being named the AMC South Division Freshman of the Year and earning AMC South Division Second Team and NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention status. He tied with Hilbert for the team lead with 11 double-doubles, which ranked them both 21st among NAIA Division II players. He was also 35th in NAIA Division II in field goal percentage (54.6%) and ranked 37th in rebounding.
Ryan Seesholtz, a wing, added 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as he joined Hess on the five-member AMC South Division All-Freshmen Team. Meanwhile, forward John Regula contributed 3.1 points and 2.7 rebounds, while 7-foot center Steve Mayes averaged 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds and blocked 15 shots.
Despite losing a quality senior class to graduation, the future looks bright for MVNU as the team looks to build off of the success of the 2003-2004 season. With an experienced returning group and some talented newcomers, Coach Flemming and the Cougars will look to challenge for the AMC South Division title again in 2004-2005.