Because Southwestern Adventist basketball men won last year’s Christian College National Invitational Tournament after arriving with a 6-16 record, the Keene, Tex., Knights won’t be underestimated when they pit an 8-21 mark vs. Wilberforce in Thursday’s 1 p.m. tournament opener in Oakland City University’s Johnson Center.
Similarly, the defending champions, who beat Oakland City 89-78 in the 2017 final, won’t underestimate Wilberforce despite the Xenia, Ohio, team’s 7-15 record.
So neither team will be overlooked although much has changed.
“We lost a significant amount of talent from last year,” said Southwestern Adventist Coach Tyler Wooldridge, the Knights’ point-guard as recently as 2015 and assistant coach the past two years before becoming head coach when Francis Nicholas became athletic director at Oakwood Academy in Huntsville, Ala.
“We’re bringing just eight players. Our university’s decision to come back to Oakland City came at the last minute, and some of our guys couldn’t make it because they already had travel plans. And one of the eight we’re bringing, 6-foot-3 Michael Latuhoi who is a significant player as a sub, may have to leave us after the Thursday game because he has some sort of conflict and has to do something else," he added.
Wilberforce is upbeat despite its 7-15 report card.
“We’ve won three of our last four games. We beat Central State, a Division II team, for the first time in 24 years,” Bulldogs Coach Kevin Waters said. “We’re also excited since this is our first postseason in a while.”
Southwestern returns two starters from its 2017 CCNIT champions. Sophomore center Fatai Eke scored 14 points and took a CCNIT-record 26 rebounds against Oakland City. Point-guard Travis Gagua authored 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in the final.
“Fatai can get a double-double any time he steps on the floor,” the 25-year-old Wooldridge said. “Travis, who is averaging 23.4 points and 5 assists, is a United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) First Team All-American.”
Danny Richard rotates between point-guard and shooting guard. Sophomore Louis Martinez is part of a starting unit that could include 6-1 classmate Sitivi Fehoko or Latuhoi.
Senior Arthur Haggard leads Wilberforce, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church school, with 14 points and 4 rebounds per game.
“Arthur probably leads the nation in taking charging fouls. He takes four per game,” said Waters, whose Bulldogs are getting 11 points from 6-4 junior forward Lajeand Marshall.
Junior point-guard Darrion Riddle, from Gary, Ind., dishes nine assists a game while scoring six points. Senior Austin Daniels and 5-10 classmate Malik Breckenridge complete the lineup.
Waters said the Bulldogs “try to get in transition,” while Wooldridge said the Knights “have the ability to play a pretty balanced game. We can push the ball or back it out. Our strength is our ability to move the ball, and defensively we get after guys.”
The Game 1 winner will play at 5 Friday vs. Rhema Bible or Wright State-Lake. The opening loser will play at 1 Friday vs. the loser between those teams.