EVANSVILLE, Ind. - The No. 2 Railsplitters are set to square off against a pair of elite NCAA Division II programs this weekend, as they head to Evansville, Ind. and the 11,000-seat Ford Center to face Kentucky Wesleyan (2-0) and No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville (2-0) as part of the first-ever Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic. Lincoln Memorial takes on the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers at 7 p.m. eastern time on Friday night, Nov. 18 before turning around to challenge the Chargers at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Along with Lincoln Memorial (2-0), Kentucky Wesleyan and Alabama-Huntsville, Bellarmine, Florida Southern and hosts Southern Indiana were also invited to compete in the inaugural Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, which tips off at 4:30 on Friday. "It's a great opportunity for our program and our kids," said LMU head men's basketball coach Josh Schertz. "There are a lot of blue-bloods in Division II basketball. We're not a blue-blood by any stretch. We haven't been doing this long enough. When you think of Division II basketball, Kentucky Wesleyan, Southern Indiana and Florida Southern are the first programs that come to mind. We're really honored to be a part of it." The Railsplitters head into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic following an impressive opening weekend, as Lincoln Memorial turned in a pair of 20-point wins at the SAC vs. Conference Carolinas Challenge in Greeneville, Tenn. Lincoln Memorial kicked off the season last Friday with a wire-to-wire 92-70 dismantling of the King Tornado, the defending Conference Carolinas regular-season and tournament champions as well as a 2016 NCAA Tournament qualifier. The Railsplitters shot 50 percent from the field, held King to 35.5 percent shooting and outscored the Tornado 42-18 in the paint to avenge a loss in Bristol in last season's opener. "I thought we were good opening night in terms of our competitiveness and attention to detail, particularly defensively," Schertz said of that win at King. "We did a really good job of getting the shooters and defensive transition." The Railsplitters followed that up with a 94-66 win over Lees-McRae on Saturday afternoon. Despite falling behind 7-0 from the jump, Lincoln Memorial shot 57.1 percent from the field, including a 12-for-24 mark from three-point range, to notch their eighth 2-0 start during Schertz's nine-season run. The Railsplitters were up by just 10 points at the half, but outscored the Bobcats 54-36 in the second stanza to power the victory. "I thought we got off to a really sluggish start," Schertz said. "We were down 7-0. We defended fairly well. We have to do a much better job I think in both games of finishing possessions. You do that with rebounding. We're giving up way too many offensive rebounds. We turned it over 10 times in the first half. We were very careless. We have to take care of the ball." Despite seeing several areas that need to be addressed, Schertz was happy with the outcome of this past weekend's games as well as the lessons that can be learned from playing games that matter. "There's a lot of things to clean up," he said. "But then again, it's November and I'm pleased with starting off 2-0 and beating two very good teams. I feel like hopefully we learned a little bit about ourselves. We got exposed in some areas." University of South Florida transfer Chris Perry (Bartow, Fla.) powered the Railsplitters this past weekend, logging 20 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action off the bench against King before notching 18 points and nine boards in 25 minutes against Lees-McRae. The 6-9 forward converted 13 of his 18 shot attempts and went 12-for-18 at the charity stripe while adding three blocks. "Chris has gotten better over the last few weeks," Schertz said of Perry. "He really got off to a slow start in the preseason. It's a process when guys come in, but he's a great kid. These two games were his best. He can do a lot of things when he's focused and energized, and that was good to see. We needed that in both games." Along with Perry, preseason All-American selection Luquon Choice (Laurens, S.C.) is averaging 13.5 points per game and shooting 50 percent from three-point range. He had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the win over Lees-McRae. Redshirt-freshman Cornelius Taylor (Claxton, Ga.) is chipping in 11.5 points per game, while Trevon Shaw (St. Helena Island, S.C.) is averaging 10.5 points over 12 minutes per game. Although the Railsplitters won by 22 and 28 points, respectively, this past weekend, Schertz acknowledged that those performances won't be good enough from an execution and attention to detail standpoint to be successful against the two teams awaiting Lincoln Memorial this weekend in Evansville. "I think the guys will hopefully understand what's in front of them. We got enough film in areas we were exposed in and need to get better in. For us to be an elite team in the end, everybody has to be working to be all they can be individually, and that will help us collectively. "Our guys are smart enough to understand that we have to improve between now and Friday because what we did this weekend probably won't be enough to get it done in the Ford Center this coming weekend." Kentucky Wesleyan is one of the premier programs in the history of the NCAA Division II, as the Panthers entered the 2016-17 campaign boasting a record eight national championships and the third-most all-time wins in the history of DII hoops with 1,548. In addition to that, KWC sports the fifth-best all-time winning percentage with a 66.2 percent mark over 104 seasons of competition. The Panthers were selected to repeat as Great Midwest Athletic Conference regular-season champions after winning both the GMAC regular-season and tournament titles last season. Kentucky Wesleyan went 27-4 in 2015-16 and earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament. "They're big and physical. They have terrific guard play with Charles Foster and Ken-Jah Bosley. They've got size inside in Jordan Jacks," Schertz said of Kentucky Wesleyan. "They remind me a lot of Barry last year, who we played in the Elite Eight, in terms of the way they're designed-- very physical and strong. A lot do D-I and junior college transfers. We'll have our work cut out for us." The Panthers, who have four guys listed at 6-8 or taller, are off to a 2-0 start after defeating Wayne State 71-54 and Tiffin 84-76 this past weekend in the GLIAC vs. GMAC Challenge in Owensboro, Ky. Over that two-game stretch, Bosley and Jacks combined to score more than 39 points and grab just over nine rebounds per game. Bosley logged 22 points, five assists and four rebounds against Wayne State before pouring in 23 points against Tiffin. Jacks, a preseason All-American, scored 18 points against Wayne State and 16 versus Tiffin, shooting 55 percent from the field over those two appearances. In addition to that duo, Michael Vigilance - a 6-8 center - is averaging a near double-double for the Panthers with 9.5 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. Foster is pitching in 7.5 points per game while handing out a team-leading 4.5 assists per appearance. As a unit, Kentucky Wesleyan is shooting 45.6 percent from the field while holding opponents to a 41.4 percent mark. However, the Panthers have been susceptible to the three-pointer, as opponents have connected on 13 of their 29 attempts this season for a 44.8 percent rate. KWC has outrebounded its foes 37-32. Like Lincoln Memorial and Kentucky Wesleyan, the No. 5 nationally-ranked Alabama-Huntsville Chargers are off to a 2-0 start to the 2016-17 campaign, as they squeaked out wins over Saint Leo (82-80) and Tampa (91-86) this past weekend in Florence, Ala. The Chargers trailed Saint Leo late in regulation, but Troy Saxton canned a three-pointer with 26 seconds left to lift UAH over the Lions, who played in the NCAA Tournament last season. In the win over Tampa, the Chargers led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but had to close on a 5-0 run over the final 48 seconds to shake off the Spartans. Alabama-Huntsville is scoring points in bunches, averaging 86.5 points per game and shooting 45.8 percent from the field through its first two games. However, opponents have kept pace with 83 points per game despite shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor. That is due in large part to rebounding, as the Chargers are getting outrebounded by nearly five rebounds per game this season. Preseason All-American selection Seab Webster -- a 6-6 senior forward -- is leading the Chargers with 19.5 points and 10 rebounds per game on 46.4 percent shooting. He had 27 points and eight boards in the win over Tampa. Saxon is pitching in 17 points per game while shooting 71.4 percent from the field, while Kip Owens (6-9, 215) and Brandon Roberts (6-1, 175) are contributing right at 12 points per game. The Chargers have been one of the best Division II programs in the country this decade, as they have won six of the last seven Gulf South Conference regular-season titles and compiled a 169-52 record since the start of the 2009-10 campaign, which is the ninth-best winning percentage in the country over that span. UAH made back-to-back NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearances in 2011 and 2012, went 25-8 last season and lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. "It will be an incredible challenge to try and prepare for these two games in a four-day window," Schertz said. "It's an opportunity to play two great programs and see where we are and get exposed to teams we hope to face and beat in March. It's a measuring stick for us in terms of where we're trying to get to, and hopefully we'll go out there and play well and be competitive." Five Things to Know for the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic 1. Dorian Pinson of Greenville, S.C., (pictured) averaged just 7.5 points per game in the SAC vs. Conference Carolinas Challenge, but was his characteristic, stat-filling self. In 27 minutes of action against King, Pinson racked up five points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals. He was even better in 35 minutes of work against Lees-McRae, piling up 10 points, nine rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. 2. Emmanuel Terry (Enterprise, Ala.) has a SAC-leading eight blocks through two games. He turned away three shots against King before collecting five against Lees-McRae. In that win over the Bobcats, Lincoln Memorial had 11 blocks, which are tied for the third-most in program history. 3. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, Lincoln Memorial, Alabama-Huntsville and Kentucky Wesleyan have combined for 527 wins. The Railsplitters are ranked second in the NCAA Division II over that span with 192, while UAH is eighth with 171 and KWC is 13th with 164. 4. The Railsplitters are 0-6 all-time against Kentucky Wesleyan, but the two teams haven't played since the 1999 season. All six of those games were played in Owensboro, Ky. The Railsplitters came closest to beating the Panthers in 1994, a 97-93 setback. Lincoln Memorial and UAH have 35 previous meetings on record, most of which came when the two teams shared Gulf South Conference affiliation from 1994 to 2006. Over that span, the Chargers compiled a 21-14 edge in the series. The Railsplitters will be looking for their first win over Alabama-Huntsville since 2003. It will be the first meeting between the two programs since 2006. 5. The Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic was formed in celebration of the creation of the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame. The first Hall of Fame class will be inducted on Thursday night.
LMU Athletics Photo