Men's Basketball

Transylvania men poised to make a late run

Brandon Rash has taken on a big workload because of injuries to other starters but says the backups are starting to get better.
Brandon Rash has taken on a big workload because of injuries to other starters but says the backups are starting to get better.

Rash thinking perhaps, but the future is now for the Transylvania University men's basketball team.

The Pioneers (12-5) take a 6-4 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference record into Wednesday's home game against league co-leader Hanover (12-4, 8-2).

"Our whole focus now is to get ready for Feb. 25," said Coach Brian Lane, noting the HCAC Tournament. "I don't think there's a team in the league — there may not be 10 teams in the country — that are going to be able to show the improvement from today till that conference tournament like we are. Because we're actually starting back with a bunch of guys that haven't been out there."

Transy was riding along at 9-2, ranked third in its NCAA Division III region, until losing three out of four. The Pioneers offer no excuses but, fact is, injuries sidelined a pair of starters and one part-time starter during that stretch. Second-leading scorer Ashley Hatfield (concussion) and Taylor Botkin (shoulder) are back in the lineup, and point guard Tate Cox (broken hand) is about ready to return.

Visions of a post-season run might not be far-fetched.

The silver lining to the dark cloud of injury is that Transy's bench has seen more floor time than it would have.

Of the 17 Pioneers who have played in at least seven games, two are seniors and two are juniors. That leaves nine sophomores and four freshmen.

Of the five Pioneers averaging more than nine points, three are sophomores (Brandon Rash, Ethan Spurlin and Barrett Meyer), and two are freshmen (Hatfield and Cox).

"Sure the future is really bright, but we're striving to do good this year," said Rash, a 6-foot-4 200-pounder who leads Transy with a 13.7 scoring average. "Everyone's made good progress, just been working hard to make the team better and make themselves better."

Rash, out of Montgomery County, immediately cracked Transy's lineup. He hasn't missed a game in his 11/2 seasons of collegiate ball, starting all but one.

Besides his scoring, Rash adds 4.9 rebounds and a team-leading 3.1 assists per game. He leads the team in steals (23) and shares the lead in blocking shots (12).

When the injury bug bit the team, Rash faced a regular diet of double- and even triple-team defense.

"He's drawn a lot of attention all year, but he's still been able to find ways to score," Lane said after last week's 90-54 rout of Earlham. "There were even situations in the game ... where I thought he looked to be too unselfish. You don't have to tell many guys to look to score more, but he's one of those guys."

Rash does his damage in a variety of ways.

A point guard in high school, he goes to work on the block against taller players.

"He doesn't have the size for a big guy, but he's got the explosiveness and the long arms, is able to get his shot over people," Lane said. "This year, he's really developed into a nice passer."

Rash also is able to draw taller defenders from the basket because he is a 48 percent (12-for-25) three-point shooter.

Post up, pass, knock down a three-pointer or crash the glass, Rash says he'll do what's required.

"I have fun every day and, for it to be fun for me, you've got to win," he said. "So I'm going to do what it takes to win. We just collectively have tried to come out and give 110 percent every day ... trying to be consistent and play hard in every practice."

Will that be good enough to emerge from the middle of the pack in the HCAC?

"Oh, yeah. Just like Coach said, we have the capability of being one of those teams that it's a middle-of-the-pack year, but we can just click and go off and win the tournament at any site," Rash said. "I strongly believe that we definitely still have a chance of winning, and we're just as good as any team in the conference."