Men's Basketball returns to SCAC Tournament after Surprise Season

Crusaders back in SCAC Tournament after missing last 2 seasons. Take on Texas Lutheran on Friday.
Crusaders back in SCAC Tournament after missing last 2 seasons. Take on Texas Lutheran on Friday.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The University of Dallas men's basketball team begins postseason play this Friday, February 23rd. Dallas (15-10, 8-6 SCAC) qualified for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Tournament for the first time since 2014-15 when it hosted at the Maher Center.

After missing the tournament the previous two seasons and winning a combined six SCAC games in that span; the Crusaders produced their best winning percentage (.571) in league play. They also matched their highest total of conference wins with 8, and finished in a three-way tie for second place. The other time was in 2012-13. Both occasions the Crusaders earned the No. 3 seed. They will be opposed by the No. 6 seed Texas Lutheran University. These teams split during the regular season, with the road team prevailing in each matchup. (Box Score TLU won 68-52) | (Box Score UD won 69-64)

SEASON SUMMARY

Dallas was coming off a 9-16 campaign and had three starters graduate last May. The SCAC coach's preseason poll selected the Crusaders eighth out of as many teams in the league.

Nonetheless, the Crusaders rolled out to a 7-1 record, matching their hottest start since a historic 18-win campaign that happened three years ago. UD's only blemish was a three-point loss (90-87) at Illinois College. After that, the team picked up double-digit wins at home over University of the Ozarks and Johnson & Wales University (CO). In that latter game, head coach Jarred Samples earned his 100th win at UD, and Spencer Levi (St. Louis, Mo.) shattered the block record with nine. That matched the previous team's total, which increased to 11. Dallas also edged preseason favorite Colorado College (69-65) and topped Hendrix College a second time in the great start.

A three-game slide followed into early 2018, which included scoring a season-low (at the time) in points on a 64-57 setback at Trinity University. Dallas was averaging 80 points entering that contest. UD picked up crucial wins against Schreiner University and Centenary College, but ended up going 2-7 to fall to 9-8 overall. Dallas was in sixth midway through the SCAC schedule.

On the heels of a 1-3 home stand, the Crusaders regained their momentum by going 4-1 on the next road trip that included three conference wins. They continued that success with important wins the final two home games of the season against Trinity and Schreiner. The 2-0 season series versus Schreiner served as the tiebreak with Trinity for determining the number three and four seeds.

LEVI LIFTS UD

Levi soared onto the scene in his first season with the Crusaders by displaying some of the most remarkable performances by any player in recent years. The 6-7 freshman debuted with a 17-point (6-7 FG), 12-rebound display versus Millsaps College. Levi is averaging 19 points (1st among freshmen) and 11.5 rebounds coming into the tournament. He shot above 70 percent from the field all season, and ranked within the top-5 in NCAA Division III the majority of the year. He is currently third with a 70.8-clip. Levi also ranks top-10 in the country for rebounds-per-game (8th), 2.76 blocks-per-game (Tied 7th), and 17 double-doubles (Tied 6th).

The conference leaderboard has Levi third in points-per-game (ppg), first in rebounding average, field goal percentage, and block shots. Levi scored double figures in 23 games and the only times he missed the mark were by a point – both non-conference games. Levi surpassed 30 points three times, including a personal-best 33. His highest rebounding total was 19 versus Centenary College, which was two shy of a program best. Levi buried the single-season blocks record the last day of January, and currently has 69. 

Levi has earned two SCAC Player of the Week honors, a spot on D3hoops.com Team of the Week, and was named with the top 100 on the 2017-18 Bevo Francis Award.

VETERAN PRESCENCE

The current starting lineup features three freshmen, but two upperclassmen have provided veteran leadership that has led to success. Emmanuel Calton (Keller, Texas) – the only player on the roster to appear in a conference tournament game – is a starting guard shooting a career-best 50.9 percent. He posted career marks in points (136), assists (81), and steals (22) this regular season. In addition to numbers, Calton brings a spark of energy that can impact the flow of the game.

Darrius Colvin (Waco, Texas) is a two-year starter that continues to provide solid numbers that bolster his career stats. Colvin has tallied 16.3 ppg in 831 minutes of action. He has grabbed 137 rebounds and dished a team-leading and career-high 90 assists. The junior also holds personal-highs in steals (37) and blocks (18).

Solomon Berezin (League City, Texas) is the other player besides Calton that was on the roster in 2014-15. Berezin has chipped in 64 points with nine made three-pointers in 22 games.

YOUTHFUL ROSTER

Five players that have received regular playing time – particularly down the stretch – are newcomers on the roster that were not on the team in 2016-17. Joining Levi in the starting five are John Russell (Bossier City, La.) and Joshua Nunn (St. Louis, Mo.). Russell is third on the team in points (186) and in rebounds (107). Nunn has scored 177 points. He had a stretch of six double-digit scoring games from January 27th to Feb. 11th, which UD was 5-1. He sits atop the league shooting 87.3 percent (69-79) from the free throw line, and is 44-of-49 in the last 10 games with an attempt.

Michael Wambsganss (Denver, Colo.) has contributed big numbers off the bench in his first season with Dallas. He is the top three-point shooter with 67 of his 97 field goals. He rounds out a trio of scorers on the team averaging double-digits with 12.7 points. Last season, the most made three-pointers an individual made was 34. Wambsganss has given a boost when the starters needed a rest. Averaging 25.6 minutes per contest, the guard has also posted 89 rebounds, 42 assists, and 20 steals. His 40.9 three-point field goal percentage is fifth best in the conference. There have been eight contests he has made at least four trifectas.

Dustin Mathis (Fort Worth, Texas) has appeared in 20 games. He has been provided solid minutes of late in the point guard position. Mathis can be a threat from three-point territory, and has an assist in five-of-six contests.

MORE HELP FROM THE BENCH

Besides Wambsganss and Mathis, the team has received solid contributions of late from Ben Norton (Louisville, Ky.) and Logan Fruhwirth (Waynesville, Ohio). The duo appeared in six of the past eight games during the Crusaders 7-2 stretch. Norton has scored 23 points in his last five games – including the final four in a row. The junior also has compiled 21 rebounds in that span.

Fruhwirth has scored 26 points and grabbed 13 boards since returning late in the season. This included a personal-high 10 points against Schreiner. He spent the fall semester on the Rome Campus.  

VETERAN COACHING STAFF

Coach Samples is in his 10th season at the helm of the men's basketball program. He has racked up 110 career wins at his alma mater, where he lettered four years in basketball and golf. In 2001, he was the point guard for the program's best winning season (.750%). It was the team's first year to amass 18 wins.  

Samples is assisted by Matt Grahn, Chris Conaty, and Victor Garate ('17). This is the first year this quartet has worked together. Grahn has worked with the team seven seasons. Conaty and Garate joined the staff this winter. Garate (3-year letterwinner) was a guard four seasons with the Crusaders.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

- Dallas is the top scoring offense in the SCAC with 79.5 points and is shooting a league-best 47.8 field goal percentage.

- The Crusaders are atop the conference in assists with 429 and 17.2 per contest.

- UD leads on the defensive glass with 686. Its 27.4 defensive rebounding average is tied first with Colorado College. The team has a +3.4 rebound margin for second in the conference.

- Dallas is 3rd in blocks with a team single-season record 110. The 4.4 average is tied with Trinity for 2nd.

SCAC TOURNAMENT HISTORY

Since joining the conference in 2011-12, the Crusaders have qualified for the tournament five times. Prior to making it this year, they have gone 1-4 with only one appearance in the SCAC Semifinals. Dallas edged Colorado College, 50-47, before dropping a decision to Texas Lutheran University in 2014-15. Friday's opponent has won the conference tournament the last three years.

UP NEXT

The winner of Friday's game will face No. 2 seed Centenary College on Saturday at 2 p.m. (MST).