The Ashland University men's basketball team continued its defensive dominance in its return from Christmas break with an 82-53 win over visiting Thiel on Saturday (Dec. 30) afternoon at Kates Gymnasium.
It was the final game of 2017 for the Eagles (10-3), who will enter a new year with 10 wins for the first time since the 2006-07 season when they were 10-4 going into January.
The Eagles, who resume GLIAC play next week with a trip to the Upper Peninsula, locked down Thiel (3-5) from the outset. The Tomcats did not have their first basket until 16:27 remained in the first half and the Eagles held a 13-2 lead with 14 minutes remaining until halftime.
Ashland had a 45-12 lead at halftime, holding the visitors to a 14 percent (4-for-29) shooting mark in the first half.
"That's something that our guys have done a good job focusing on," said AU head coach John Ellenwood. "There's been a renewed commitment to our defense."
The Eagles, ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense, have allowed just 52 points per game over its last five contests. In its previous game, AU set the program's shot clock era record by giving up just 40 points to West Virginia Wesleyan.
"Defense wins games," said senior forward Wendell Davis. "Going into these next two games against Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan, it's going to be tough. Defense is going to have to guide us. On the road, it's tough to score and if there's one thing you can depend on, it has to be defense."
Offensively, the Eagles were methodical in breaking down the Tomcats, going to the line 27 times in the game, including 18 trips in the first half. AU shot 82 percent from the stripe. Ashland also connected on 8-of-15 (53 percent) of its 3-pointers.
Davis controlled the floor for the Eagles, finishing with a game-high 23 points on just 5-for-7 shooting. He sank three 3-pointers and was 10-for-10 from the line, while adding six assists and six boards in just 25 minutes.
"Wendell was outstanding, he played a great game," Ellenwood said. "He's shooting the ball extremely well for us and he's passing the ball extremely well. If there's a better guy in the conference I want to know who it is. I love coaching the guy and I'm going to cherish the end of his career here at Ashland.
"He understands his role is to have the offense flow through him and not stop through him. He does a great job of getting everybody else involved. I'm fortunate to coach a guy as good as Wendell Davis."
The Eagles also established sophomore center Drew Noble in the post as he chipped in his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points, 11 rebounds. He was 6-for-6 from the free throw stripe and matched a career-high with three blocks.
"He played really well today," said Ellenwood. "On the defensive end, he did a great job. Rebounding-wise he always does a great job. A double-double in 22 minutes is great for him. Man, is he productive on both ends."
Redshirt-junior guard Ben Haraway was the third Eagle in double figures with 13 points while redshirt-freshman wing Aaron Thompson scored nine points on 3-for-3 shooting. Senior forward Marsalis Hamilton had six points, four rebounds, four assists and set a new career high with three blocks.
The challenge now becomes greater for the Eagles, who will hit the road for their longest road trip of the season when they take on Michigan Tech (7-5, 4-1 GLIAC) on Thursday (Jan. 4) at 7:30 p.m.