2015-16 Men's Basketball
October 28, 2015
BLUFFTON, Ohio - A stellar finish to the 2014-15 season has the Bluffton University men’s basketball program excited to hit the hardwood in November when the 2015-16 campaign kicks off. Eight wins in their final 10 contests was punctuated with Bluffton’s first-ever trip to the Heartland Conference tournament finals! The Beavers won six of their last seven regular season games for their first HCAC tournament berth in three years before knocking off #3 seed Anderson and #2 seed Mount St. Joseph on back-to-back nights.
The 2015-16 season offers the Beavers a chance to reinforce the important core principles that Coach Neal has stressed throughout his tenure on the sidelines. Improved conditioning, executing the fundamentals on offense and defense along with limiting injuries played an integral part in Bluffton’s success on the court a season ago. The Bluffton toughness that the Beavers are known for was in full display as the defense stiffened and the team chemistry blossomed down the stretch in 2014-15.
But with last season in the rear-view mirror, Coach Neal is acutely aware that maintaining a high level of success is often a more daunting challenge than achieving it. “It is harder to stay on top than it is to get there,” stated Coach Neal. “The hunger drives players who have not tasted success and that can wane. Injuries are also a factor and after two seasons in which we had key players sidelined, we stayed relatively healthy last year which paid huge dividends in 2014-15.”
The graduation of guards Ryan Ebbeskotte and Zach Rumbaugh means Bluffton will have leadership and ball-handling roles to fill, but the return of All-Heartland Conference post Thayne Recker (Arlington) should help ease Bluffton’s transition out front. Recker earned numerous honors throughout the 2014-15 season, including being USBWA’s National Player of the Week following his 53 points in Bluffton’s 103-102 triple overtime victory over Hanover College. The 53 points was an HCAC and Bluffton record for points in a game, as well as the most points scored in a game by a Division III player last season. Following Bluffton's magical tourney run, Recker was named to the HCAC All-Tournament team after averaging 26.3 points and 10 boards per game in leading the Beavers to their first ever HCAC title tilt.
The junior standout averaged 21.1 points to go along with 9.8 rebounds, only five rebounds shy of averaging a double-double for the season. Recker did that on 52.4 percent from the floor, as well as 79.8 percent from the charity stripe. He also averaged 2.1 assists per contest. His 21.1 points tied him with HCAC Most Valuable Player Bernard Edwards for the top spot in the conference as well as 18th in the country. Recker’s improvements at the line helped the Beavers shoot 79.4 percent as a team after a 2013-14 campaign when Bluffton was under 70 percent from the stripe.
With Bluffton’s season on the line 2014-15 junior Billy Taflinger (Lima/Central Catholic) took control of the offense, averaging 20 PPG during the Heartland Conference tournament. He put up 9.6 PPG and dished out 2.8 APG while hitting 78.5 percent at the line. Also looking to make contributions on the floor as seniors are Blake Green (Delta) and Mitchel Huffman (Jeromesville/Hillsdale). Green showed flashes with his ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc last season. Senior Aaron Montgomery (Indianapolis, Ind./Mooresville) transferred in a season ago and he adds to Bluffton’s depth at forward.
Junior Austin Rohde (Shelby) moved into the starting lineup midway through the 2014-15 campaign and he jump started Bluffton’s offense with his ability to create his own shot. Deadly from distance (32-of-77 for 41.6 percent) and at the line (55-of-62 for 88.7 percent), Rohde has the ability to get to the rim or pull up and hit the mid-range jumper thanks to his superb athleticism. Trey Elchert (Jackson Center) is a confident ball-handler who has seen significant action off the bench his first two years while Adam Hopkins (Wellington/Keystone) will be counted on to help Bluffton’s post game after limited varsity minutes as a sophomore. Also looking to join the mix is 2014-15 transfer Josh Carey (Bellefontaine).
A trio of sophomore guards got their feet wet last season with Austin Moore (Maumee/St. John’s Jesuit) seeing the most action as a freshman. Moore played in 22 games and showed the ability to knock down the outside shot. Austin Terrill (Richwood/North Union) and Andrew Hunter (Arlington) will both have the opportunity to earn court time in 2015-16 along with Lee Holderman (Carey/Riverdale) who played junior varsity last season.
Improvements in shooting at the line and behind the arc paid huge dividends as teams tried to contain Recker last season and that trend will continue in 2015-16 with a bevy of talented shooters surrounding the Sporting News pre-season All-American post. The Beavers hit 74 more triples last season than they did in 2013-14 and the free throw shooting percentage was nearly 10 percent better last year.
Bluffton welcomes Ohio-State Lima for the season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 17 before traveling to Buffalo State for their Tip-Off Tournament on Friday, Nov. 20. The Heartland Conference opener is Saturday, Dec. 5 when the Beavers host Transylvania, the team Bluffton defeated in the 2014-15 regular season finale to secure a berth in the HCAC tournament. The annual McDonald’s Holiday Tournament is slated for Dec. 29-30, setting up two months of Heartland Conference action that will conclude on Saturday, Feb. 20 with a trip to Hanover College.
The Bluffton men were recently tabbed to finish fifth in the 2015-16 HCAC pre-season coaches poll after their impressive run to the conference title game a season ago. Mount St. Joseph was selected to repeat after sharing the regular-season championship with Defiance in 2014-15. Rose-Hulman took second in the poll with Hanover and Transylvania placing third and fourth, respectively.
Come out and support the Beavers when they hit the hardwood for another exciting season of Bluffton basketball!