John Carroll, Mount Union headed toward OAC showdown

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JJ Kukura has been Mount Union's microwave, leading the Purple Raiders in scoring while coming off the bench.
Photo by Ed Hall 

By Greg Chandler

Well into the new year, John Carroll and Mount Union are fighting for the top spot in the always tough Ohio Athletic Conference. The two rivals could take unbeaten OAC marks into their Saturday showdown at JCU's Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center. The Blue Streaks and Purple Raiders are both 6-0 in conference play heading into the week, with Marietta lurking just behind at 5-1.

No. 7 JCU remained perfect at 13-0, but had to pull out a nailbiter against Capital, 75-74, before defeating Muskingum in a shootout on the road, 97-91. David Linane's layup with 34 seconds remaining snapped a 71-71 tie, and Will Starks sank two insurance free throws with seven seconds left to seal the win. Linane finished with 19 points for the Blue Streaks, who overcame 21 turnovers.

Meanwhile, 19th-ranked Mount Union kept pace with a 104-80 rout of Heidelberg, then gutted out an 82-79 road win against a Wilmington team that has yet to win in conference play. Sophomore guard JJ Kukura doesn't usually start, but he leads four Purple Raiders in double figures at 17.9 points per game. Senior Jake Jacubec, a transfer from California (Pa.), is a deadly outside shooter, hitting 52 percent of his 3-point tries while averaging 14.8 points per game, and senior forward Jarrett Ruffin is a tough inside presence, shooting 61 percent from the field and averaging 14 points a contest.

"We've been very proud of our guys overcoming some early adversity and grinding out some tough wins," Mount Union coach Mike Fuline said. "John Carroll has been the standard for many years to which we have strived to achieve."

Mount Union hosts Muskingum on Wednesday, while John Carroll hits the road to face Otterbein.

While one game back, Marietta stayed in the top 10 nationally on the strength of a 72-71 win over Ohio Northern. Junior A.J. Edwards had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Pioneers, whose only OAC loss was a four-point setback Dec. 19 to JCU. Next Wednesday, Mount Union and Marietta face off in Alliance.

Denison tames Tigers, ends 96-Game NCAC home streak

The last time DePauw lost a home conference women's basketball game, George W. Bush was in his first term as president of the United States.

But last Wednesday at Neal Fieldhouse, Denison used a stout defensive effort in the fourth quarter, limiting the Tigers to 1-of-15 shooting from the field and outscoring DePauw 16-6 over the final 10 minutes to take a 63-54 victory, a win that helped propel the Big Red to sole possession of first place in the NCAC heading into this week. Denison's win ended DePauw's 96-game home winning streak against NCAC foes, a streak that dated back to December 2002.

Junior center Jordan Holmes led Denison with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Gabrielle Nottage came off the bench to add 12 points. The Big Red overcame 19 turnovers and outrebounded the Tigers 39-28.

Denison gained sole possession of the NCAC three days later after Kenyon knocked off DePauw 60-53, handing the Tigers back-to-back regular season losses for the first time since January 2003. Denison is 4-1 in the NCAC, with DePauw at 4-2.

Ohio Northern seizes control of OAC women's race

While the OAC men's race is a three-way fight, Ohio Northern has moved into the driver's seat in the women's basketball standings. ONU headed into the week with a 6-0 record in league play and a two game lead over Capital, Mount Union and Baldwin Wallace.

The Polar Bears, who jumped from No. 21 to No. 16 in this week's women's poll, strengthened their hold on the OAC lead with a 66-53 road win at Mount Union, then clobbered Marietta, 92-49. Four players scored in double figures in the Mount Union victory, led by sophomore center Amy Bullimore with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

ONU leads the OAC in both scoring offense and scoring defense, scoring 74.5 points per game while limiting its opponents to 55 points per contest. The Polar Bears spread the scoring around, with Bullimore leading the way at an average of 12 points per game, while junior guard Britt Lauck averages 10.9 a contest.

NCAC men's logjam continues

Ohio Wesleyan, Hiram and Wooster continue to maintain a share of the NCAC men's lead with 5-1 records heading into the week.

No. 8 OWU got 16 points from Seth Clark in a 77-70 win over Wittenberg and 23 points from Ben Simpson as the Battling Bishops downed Allegheny 89-77. Hiram kept pace, extending its winning streak to eight in a row with a 91-60 romp over DePauw and a 72-68 win over Wittenberg. J.J. Woodson led the Terriers with 15 against DePauw and 20 in the Wittenberg win. Wooster's offense was in high gear as the Scots defeated Kenyon, 91-75, and Oberlin, 86-76. Sophomore Spencer Williams was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 8-of-9 three-point shots for the week, four in each of the two victories.

Escape artists?

No. 4 Hope is establishing a reputation as a comeback team. On four occasions already this year, the Flying Dutchmen have battled back from double-digit deficits to win. Their most recent escape act came last Wednesday at DeVos Fieldhouse in their MIAA opener. Trailing 58-44 with less than eight minutes remaining, Hope outscored Albion 24-7 down the stretch to pull out a 68-65 win. Brock Benson sank four free throws in the final 23 seconds for the win.

How's this for a 1-2 punch?

You might be hard-pressed to find a better one-two offensive scoring punch in Division III women's basketball than LaRoche's pair of TiChina Mitchell and Sabrina McLin.

Mitchell has averaged 21.7 points per game so far this season, while McLin is right behind her at 21.6. Together, they account for more than half of the Lady Redhawks' 79 points per game, which has helped propel LaRoche to nine consecutive wins and a 6-0 start in AMCC play.

Mitchell set a school record earlier this season with a 40-point performance in a 102-50 rout of D'Youville, while McLin twice has hit for 32 points in a game. McLin went over the 1,000-point mark for her career in a 58-46 victory over Hilbert Saturday as she scored 23 points.

This and that

Ohio Wesleyan and Wooster combined to produce the highest-scoring women's basketball game in NCAC history last Wednesday. The Bishops and Scots combined for 195 points, with OWU coming away with the win in double overtime, 101-94. The 195 points broke the previous NCAC record of 194 points set 25 years ago when Allegheny played Oberlin.

Megan Kuether, named this week's NCAC Player of the Week, fired in 34 points to lead the Bishops, while Lauren Hancher poured in 38 for Wooster. Kuether followed up her performance against Wooster with a 37-point game as Ohio Wesleyan defeated Allegheny, 88-82.

Calvin's Bre Luurtsema had a big week in leading the Knights to a pair of wins that kept them side-by-side with Hope in the MIAA women's race. Luurtsema scored a career-high 24 points in an 81-52 rout of Trine, then sank two free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining to lift Calvin to a 79-77 overtime road win at Olivet. She scored 11 points and grabbed 16 boards in the Olivet victory.

Pitt-Bradford's Ali Rinfrette went 20 or better in three straight AMCC wins, scoring 24 points against Hilbert, 20 against Penn State Altoona and 22 with 11 boards versus Mount Aloysius.

Around the Great Lakes was written by Greg Chandler during the 2015-16 season. He is a veteran journalist and broadcaster who has followed Division III basketball for more than 25 years. He has called Hope basketball for radio, including the 2006 national championship run, and served as the first publicist for the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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2015-16: Greg Chandler