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Men’s team, second in PAC, prepare for playoffs

One year ago, Eastern’s men’s basketball team was skidding its way to the end of a season in which they finished 9-16 (7-9 in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference). Today they stand three playoff wins away from the school’s first PAC Championship in men’s basketball since Eastern became a part of NCAA Division III in 1992.

As of January 31, the team had posted a record of 14-6 (9-4 in the PAC) and was number two in the PAC standings behind only Alvernia College (11-1 in the PAC).

“I’m happy but I’m not satisfied,” head coach Matt Nadelhoffer said. “We’re still a work in progress. Everyday we want to be better.”

As a true team, the Eagles have worked their way to the top of the standings using nearly all their players and without any one star player.

Most teams in basketball play a half-court game with five starters who play most, if not all of the game. Coach Nadelhoffer elects to play a full-court game which utilizes speed and attempts to create quick points while wearing down the opponent. Eastern’s unique style of play has gotten them this far in the season because it disrupts other teams’ strategies and game plans.

“We’re difficult to guard because we run and we play a lot of people,” Nadelhoffer said. “I think we match up with everybody and I think we pose match up problems for anybody. There isn’t a team in the league that we don’t match up with because we are deep and we run a few different starting lineups just because of matchups.”

“We’re getting better each game,” Bobby Black, the team’s leading scorer, said. “I think the biggest thing for us is that we understand that we can play with anybody if we play our game. Along with that confidence, it kind of shows when we’re on the court that we can compete with anybody.”

With the PAC playoffs set to begin on February 18, Eastern is in a prime position to reach the championship. If they were to win the PAC Tournament it would also mean a seed in the NCAA Division III tournament in March. They lost to the leading team Alvernia by five points on January 30.

When asked if they could defeat Alvernia, Black quickly responded: “Absolutely. We lost the [last] game because we got down by too much in the first half. When we came back, we were within two, and we had them on the ropes and they were really panicking and scared. They were dead tired. What shifted the momentum in their favor during our comeback was we had an ill-advertent intentional foul that we got called on that wasn’t really an intentional foul.”

“They know,” Black continued, “that they can’t just come in the gym and just think that it’s a win [for them]. They can’t do that. Personally I can’t see anybody else competing against them or us.”

“They [the players] have the ability, they know the system, they have a lot of freedom,” Coach Nadelhoffer said. “We’ve talked all year about the little things: teamwork, building one another up, encouraging one another, those kind of things, to be unselfish because they’re playing in a system where you have to be. We have a couple guys on our team who probably, if we played a half-court game, could score thirty-five a game each, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean we’d be winning games. It’s going to all depend upon on them continuing to humble themselves and supporting each other to do better.”

Nadelhoffer’s message to the fans: “Come out and support. Join in the fun. From a winning standpoint, to come out and dream big dreams and think that it can happen [winning the PAC Tournament], because it can. This group has the chance to win for the first time ever since we’ve gone to Division III and the PAC.”

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