2014-15 Men's Basketball
November 7, 2014
BLUFFTON, Ohio - With the fall season rapidly winding down, the 2014-15 men’s basketball team has moved into high gear as they look forward to the home opener on Saturday, Nov. 15, against Kalamazoo College. It will be an exciting day on the campus of Bluffton University as the first act of the double feature is a 1:30 p.m. Senior Day football battle between the Beavers and rival Defiance College in a sure to be packed Salzman Stadium. Injuries have slowed Bluffton the past two seasons, but a talented group of returners have the Beaver faithful excited about the upcoming campaign that kicks off with the Hornets in less than a month.
The graduation of Will Pope and Dustin Kinn leave formidable shoes to fill, however, junior Thayne Recker (Arlington) returns to the post after bulldozing his way to a 63.3 field goal percentage as a sophomore, second in the Heartland Conference and behind just Dustin Kinn who hit 66.7 percent from the field. Recker was second on the team with 13.6 points per game and he finished second in the HCAC at 6.8 rebounds per game despite just 13 starts a season ago. The honorable mention All-HCAC selection will give Bluffton’s shooters room to roam as opposing defenses are forced to clog up the middle around him.
Coach Neal believes that his 2014-15 squad needs to and will make improvements on the defensive end and at the free throw line. A program known for its defensive intensity and for its ability to cash in at the charity stripe, the Beavers will emphasize the grittiness and fundamentals that have long been a staple during Coach Neal’s tenure. Looking to flip the 70’s, Bluffton will focus on keeping opponents from scoring 70 points while knocking down over 70 percent of its attempts from the foul line at the other end.
Helping to create space for Recker are a host of experienced guards who return in 2014-15. A two-year starter at the point, senior Ryan Ebbeskotte (Fort Jennings/Delphos Jefferson) is an adept ball handler who doled out 110 assists (4.4 APG) which was second in the HCAC. His scoring numbers went up as the season progressed and he led the Beavers with an 88.5 free throw percentage (46-of-52). Fellow seniors Brock Homier (Continental) and Zack Rumbaugh (Lima/Senior) are both experienced guards who can shoot the triple and find the open man. Rumbaugh hit 10-of-23 (.435) from distance late in the season, while Homier led the conference with a 2.8 assists to turnover ratio.
Junior Billy Taflinger (Lima/Central Catholic) was the motor that kept Bluffton running after injuries sidelined Josh Johnson, Nate Chambers, Matt Weisenborn and Dustin Kinn in 2013-14. Taflinger dropped in 10.5 points per game, handed out 82 assists and hit 75.5 percent from the line while picking up 22 steals as a sophomore. His career-high 32-point effort at Hanover helped Bluffton stun the Panthers last February when he hit 9-of-14 from the field and 14-of-17 at the line. Fellow junior Blake Green (Delta) joined the post rotation a year ago when Kinn went down with a shoulder injury at Rose-Hulman. Green changed the playing field with his ability to step outside. He knocked down 8-of-20 (40.0 percent) from behind the arc while pulling down 24 rebounds as a sophomore. Mitchel Huffman (Jeromesville/Hillsdale) has been a consistent contributor to the junior varsity program during his first two seasons at Bluffton.
Three sophomores return to the hardcourt for the Beavers in 2014-15. Austin Rohde (Shelby) and Trey Elchert (Jackson Center) moved into the rotation late in the season, gaining valuable playing experience down the stretch as the Beavers nearly upset HCAC champion Rose-Hulman before taking down Earlham and Transylvania in the final 2013-14 contests. Rohde took advantage of his athleticism, handing out 27 assists and coming up with 17 steals, and Elchert dished out 16 dimes with seven triples as a freshman. Adam Hopkins (Wellington/Keystone) will look to help Recker on the inside after gaining experience on the junior varsity squad a season ago.
An emphasis on defense and free throw shooting are keys to Bluffton’s success in 2014-15. “We need to focus on those things that make us Bluffton,” stated Coach Neal. “We did a nice job taking care of the ball last season, but we struggled to put teams away at the free throw line.” Staying healthy and taking advantage of the depth thanks to an incoming class of 14 will also play a huge part in Bluffton’s return to the conference tournament picture. “Avoiding major injuries and having our full arsenal on the court is of utmost importance as we prepare for the upcoming season,” Neal added. “A larger freshmen class provides us depth both during games and just as importantly during practice situations.”
A challenging schedule is punctuated with Bluffton’s trip across the state to face Division I MAC power Akron on Saturday, Dec. 20. It will mark the second straight year the Beavers have faced the Zips after a pre-season exhibition in 2013-14. Coach Neal will match wits with longtime friend Keith Dambrot, head coach of Akron, and his own son Tyler, an assistant for the Zips. Bluffton also hosts its annual holiday tournament on Dec. 29-30 in conjunction with the women’s tournament as fans will be treated to three straight days of basketball in the Sommer Center between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Although the loss of six seniors, two of which consistently put up All-HCAC numbers in the post, gives Bluffton a noticeably different appearance on paper, the 2014-15 squad is anxious to show that it accepts the challenge of moving back into the upper echelon of the HCAC after missing the conference tournament the last two seasons. Improved outside shooting and a tenacious defense will give fans in the Sommer Center much to cheer about. Mark your calendars for Saturday, Nov. 15, when the Beavers cap off a day of football and men’s hoops with a 6 p.m. meeting against the Hornets in the Sommer Center!