BLUFFTON, Ohio - Bluffton's return to the Heartland Conference tournament in 2017-18 after a two-year hiatus has the Beavers excited to hit the hardwood when the season kicks off on November 16. Gone is All-HCAC point guard Kevin Christie who poured in 17.7 PPG to go along with his team-best 116 assists, but a freshmen crew that jumped into the fray right away is ready to show that last year was far from a fluke as Head Coach Guy Neal gears up for year 30 at the helm! The Beavers rebounded from a 3-6 start last season, going 5-2 over their next seven games en route to an 11-15 mark (8-10 HCAC) and berth in the HCAC Tournament.
Justis Dowdy (Van Wert/Lincolnview) plays much bigger than his 5-11 listing in the program. He dropped in 6.6 PPG and 3.0 RPG on 58.1 percent shooting (68-of-117) from the field. Returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the final 17 games last season, senior Jared Wentling (Carey) looks to return to his 2016-17 form when he put up 13.8 PPG and ripped down a team-high 7.8 boards per contest. Transfer Mandell Ransaw (Cleveland/Cuyahoga CC) came on big at the end of the year when the 6-5 post bumped his rebounding average up to 2.3 RPG.
2018-19 junior Andrew Renner (Cairo/Bath) missed much of his freshman campaign with an assortment of injuries, but he showed out last season with 11.7 PPG and 5.1 RPG, both good for second on the team. The two-way player drained 40-of-97 from distance for 41.2 percent and he also paced the Beavers with 34 steals. Isaiah Taylor (Yellow Springs) gives the Beavers size in the post and the junior has a feathery touch around the rim. He netted 5.4 PPG and pulled down 4.7 RPG as a sophomore.
Sophomore Aaron Rich (Greenville) went for 8.2 PPG and 3.8 RPG while shooting 53.8 percent (92-of-172) from the field. Dezman Brown (Elyria) and Ronnie James (Cleveland/Benedictine) mirrored that experience out front as they combined to play over 27 minutes a game. Brown was nearly automatic at the stripe, hitting 16-of-19 for 84.2 percent.
Bluffton's defense showed much improvement in 2017-18, shaving almost two PPG off its average from 2016-17. The Beavers shot nearly 20 percentage points higher at the line last year thanks to a school-record 92.2 percent effort (118-of-128) from Christie. The improved defensive effort also paid huge dividends on the boards as Bluffton went from a -3 margin on the boards in 2016-17 to a +5 margin last season.
A trip to Allegheny College on November 16-17 tips off the 2018-19 campaign. The Beavers return for their home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 21, when Hiram comes to town. Bluffton travels to Lexington, Ky. for the Heartland Conference lidlifter against Transylvania on Saturday, Dec. 1. The annual McDonald's Holiday Tournament is slated for Dec. 28-29, setting up two months of Heartland Conference play that will conclude on Saturday, Feb. 16, at Franklin College.