Eureka College plays its home basketball games at the Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center. In the time it takes to type that, Greenville University can launch three 3-pointers.
Coach George Barber’s Panthers play the "Grinnell style" of James Naismith’s game, an approach that has blurred the eyes and bloodied the fingers of many a statistician. Among its tenets are shooting as many 3s as possible, pressing nonstop, forcing as many turnovers as you can and sending everyone but the bus driver to the offensive boards.
Players sub in and out constantly. Points pile up. Purists shake their heads.
“A gimmick,” they call it.
Yet, here’s the reality: Greenville wins with it. The Panthers are the three-time defending St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions. Beating them is a big deal.
Monday night, Eureka College pulled it off. The Red Devils beat the system, not all the time and certainly not with ease. But led by junior guard Dakota Bennington’s school-record 51 points, Eureka outscored the Division III scoring leaders, 161-153.
“The timing of everything last night was really good,” Eureka coach Chip Wilde said Tuesday. “They were coming off their 200-point game and were hot right now. It was nice to get that done.”
Oh yeah … the 200-point game. That happened nine days earlier when Greenville defeated Fontbonne, 200-146. The Panthers fell one point short of the Division III record, but set several marks, including field goals attempted (154) and 3-pointers launched (91).
They “settled” for 62 from beyond the arc Monday, making 27. It wasn’t enough on a night Eureka scored its most points ever, breaking the record of 149 against Barat in 1989 (149-37). Bennington’s 51 points were two more than the mark set in 2017 by former teammate Shea Feehan, now at Evansville.
The 6-foot-3 Bennington is the SLIAC Player of the Week two weeks running. Saturday, he had his previous career high of 40 points against Fontbonne.
Monday, he was 20 of 29 from the field with eight rebounds and seven assists. Forward Alex Wiegand was 16 of 16 from the floor and scored 36 with seven rebounds and four assists. Guard Hank Thomas had 28 points and 14 assists.
Greenville’s press can wreak havoc. It also can be your friend.
Wilde called it “top heavy,” meaning, “Once you break through the first line, it just comes down to converting a 3-on-2 or 3-on-1 or 2-on-1. It (the press) is feast or famine.”
Eureka feasted while rallying from a 17-point second-half deficit. The Red Devils shot 70 percent from the field for the game (59 of 84) and had 96 points in the paint.
Many belonged to Bennington and Wiegand. Wilde, in his 12th season, has seen enough of Greenville to know who will have the most scoring chances. It’s not the guy inbounding the ball or the first one catching it. It’s the wings who receive passes up the court and have those 3-on-2s or 2-on-1s.
“Dakota did a great job of taking advantage of that and so did Alex,” Wilde said. “That’s not taking anything away from them. You still have to make the baskets.”
Greenville had 11 players play 10 or more minutes and Eureka had nine. Wilde will tell you it takes a lot of energy to play such a frenetic pace and, thus, a lot of bodies.
Among Eureka’s was junior Drew Barth, starting quarterback on the Red Devils’ two-time conference champion football team. A former basketball standout as well at Fieldcrest High School, Barth joined Wilde’s team this season.
“He gave us 10 or 12 minutes, but they were huge,” Wilde said. “He just shredded them with inbounds passes. He knew where to deliver the ball on the spot and on time.”
Starters Jordan Dehm and Austin Juergens and subs Jalen Hosea, Kyle Henderson and Koby White also played 10 or more minutes. Dehm had 18 points and 12 rebounds, headline-worthy numbers in most games.
They blended in on a night Eureka improved to 9-13 overall and 8-8 in the SLIAC. Greenville is 16-7 overall and 13-3 in the league, a half-game behind Webster.
Again, beating Barber’s talented bunch is a big deal. One year, Wilde’s team lost twice to the Panthers on buzzer beaters, including a halfcourt shot.
Win or lose, the “system” tests your will.
“I think it’s exhausting for everybody,” Wilde said.
The statistician included.