NewsCougars Exceed Expectations with Another 20-Win Campaign
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Coming into the 2004-2005 season, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University men’s basketball team knew that it was in for a challenging season with a roster that consisted of just one senior and three juniors with varsity playing experience. The Cougars also had just one player over 6-foot-6 on the roster, and the team’s back-up point guard coming into the year missed the season due to knee surgery.
However, MVNU used defense, hustle, and great team chemistry to put together an outstanding 21-11 campaign as the Cougars topped the 20-win mark for the fourth straight season and the eighth time in the past nine years. The team also finished the year receiving votes in the NAIA Division II poll and was third in the highly competitive American Mideast Conference South Division with the two teams ahead of them both advancing to the final four at NAIA Division II national tournament.
"I really believe that this team exceeded the expectations that many people had for us before the season,” said MVNU head coach Scott Flemming. "Without a lot of size, depth, and senior experience, we were able to put together a fine year. The chemistry was good both on and off the court. I don’t know when I have enjoyed coaching a group of young men more than I have this year.”
MVNU began the season with six straight wins as the Cougars won the Indiana Wesleyan University Invitational with victories over Berea (Ky.) College and Asbury (Ky.) College, who both received votes in the NAIA Division II poll at some point in the season. Two other wins during that stretch came against Daemen (N.Y.) College, ranked 12th in the NAIA Division II poll at the time, and Trinity Christian (Ill.) College, who later earned a berth in the NAIA Division II national tournament.
The team finally had its winning streak snapped with a loss at NCAA Division II Ashland University. Following that loss, MVNU won just two of its next five games, but two of the losses were by three points each to Urbana University and Cornerstone (Mich.) University, who at one point was the top-ranked team in NAIA Division II and later advanced to national tournament. The other loss was in overtime to the University of Rio Grande, who was also ranked in the NAIA Division II poll during the year, when the Redmen made a highly contested jumper to force the extra period.
With the Cougars’ record standing at 8-4, MVNU proceeded to win six of its next seven games with the only loss coming by two points to Walsh University, who was ranked in the top ten of the NAIA Division II poll for much of the year and advanced to the final four at the national tournament. The Cougars also defeated Cedarville University, who was the top-ranked team in NAIA Division II at one point and also advanced to the final four at the national tournament, during this stretch as MVNU improved to 14-5 overall.
At that point, the Cougars wrapped up the regular season by going 7-4 against all conference opponents as MVNU’s record improved to 21-9 overall with an 11-7 AMC South Division mark. All of the losses came on the road with one each coming at Walsh and Cedarville. Then, the Cougars closed out the year with a loss to Geneva (Pa.) College in the first round of the AMC Tournament and a loss at Nyack (N.Y.) College in the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region championship game as the team finished with a 21-11 overall mark.
"One of the reasons for our success was our defense,” said Flemming. "We led the conference in both overall defensive field goal percentage (40.7 percent) and three-point field defense (28.6 percent), which were also both in the top ten in the NAIA. We may not have had the high octane offense that some of our teams in the past have had, but our defense kept us in most games.”
Individually, several players put together outstanding seasons. Forward Benji Hall, the team’s lone senior, averaged 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and was second on the team in assists (77) and blocked shots (19). Hall was named the Most Valuable Player at the Indiana Wesleyan Invitational and was an NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention pick. He wrapped up his career with 946 points, 399 rebounds, 214 assists, 105 three-pointers made, 88 steals, and 51 blocked shots.
"Benji really had a solid season,” said Flemming. "He played particularly well down the stretch when all the games were so important for qualifying for postseason play. He carried us the last week of the season when we won two tough conference road games. I have enjoyed coaching Benji, and I know our players would say he has been a great teammate. He has definitely contributed to our success over the past four years.”
Sophomore post Mark Hess followed up a solid freshman campaign with a breakout season as he led the team in scoring (17.9 points per game), rebounding (7.8 rebounds per game), and field goal percentage (54.8 percent), and he became the 27th player - and only third sophomore - in school history to reach the 1,000-point mark in career scoring. 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 Second Team as well as being selected to the Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational All-Tournament Team. He was also chosen to the ESPN The Magazine® Academic All-District IV First Team to honor his achievements on the court and in the classroom.
Junior guard Andrew Thompson also had his best season yet as he averaged 14.6 points per game and led the team with 94 three-pointers made, which ranked 15th among NAIA Division II players at 2.9 per game. Thompson, who also contributed 68 assists and shot a team-best 38.8 percent from three-point range (94-for-242), was named to the AMC South Division and NCCAA East Region Second Teams and the Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational All-Tournament Team as well as being an NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American. Another standout in the classroom, he was named to the NAIA Division II and NCCAA All-America Scholar-Athlete Teams and the ESPN The Magazine® All-District IV Second Team.
Junior point guard Alan Bock also stepped up his game as he led the team in assists (203), steals (81), and minutes played (35.7 per game). He also averaged a career-high 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Bock ranked fourth in NAIA Division II in assists per game (6.8), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.8), and tenth in steals per game (2.7). He was named to the AMC South Division Second Team, the NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention list, and the Indiana Wesleyan Invitational All-Tournament Team. He joined Thompson on both the NAIA Division II and NCCAA All-America Scholar-Athlete Teams, and he was on the ESPN The Magazine® Academic All-District IV First Team along with Hess. In addition, he was selected to the ESPN The Magazine® Academic All-America Third Team, and he was the AMC’s representative for both the A.O. Duer and Emil S. Liston Awards that are given each year by the NAIA.
Sophomore wing Ryan Seesholtz averaged a career-high 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also compiled 52 assists and was second on the team with 41 steals. He shot 46.9 percent from the field (123-for-262), 35.9 percent from three-point range (28-for-78), and 74.0 percent from the free throw line (57-for-77). He was an AMC South Division Honorable Mention selection.
Sophomore center Steve Mayes was a big contributor for the Cougars off the bench this season. The seven-footer set a new school record with 79 blocked shots as he ranked seventh in NAIA Division II with 2.5 blocks per game. He also averaged 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, and his best game came at Walsh when he scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in just 24 minutes.
Junior forward Nick Zarley was another key member of the MVNU rotation off the bench. Zarley averaged 4.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, and he led the team by shooting 83.3 percent from the free throw line (30-for-36).
Freshman wing Evan Yates averaged 2.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as he saw action in 31 games in his first collegiate season, while sophomore point guard Jaren Coldren averaged 1.3 points in 24 games. Freshman guard Josh Smith and junior forwards Josh Haumschild and Chris VanSchepen also added depth for the team.
"I am very proud of the character of this team and their accomplishments academically,” said Flemming. "The spiritual depth of this team was unusual. I was spoiled to have such an outstanding collection of young men on one team. They have truly been strong representatives of all that MVNU stands for.”
With the loss of only Hall from this year’s squad, the foundation has been set for another exciting hoops campaign when the 2005-2006 season rolls around.