Men's Basketball: No. 5 Mount Union Takes on Cairn in NCAA First Round

Photo By: Joey Rees
Photo By: Joey Rees

No. 5 ranked Mount Union hosts the first and second round of the NCAA Division III Basketball Championship Friday and Saturday with Mount Union playing Cairn at 7:30 pm in the McPherson Academic and Athletics Complex.

The Purple Raiders, 25-3 overall, are in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after an 85-74 win in the Ohio Athletic Conference Championship game, Mount Union was led by Collen Gurley (Akron / Hoban) with 32 points.

On the season, senior point guard Nathan Bower-Malone (Stow) leads the team in scoring and assists at 16.5 points per game and 5.3 assists per game while sophomore forward Braedon Poole (McDonald)  averages 7.1 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 6.1 per game.

Gurley along with senior guard D'Vontay Friga (Cuyahoga Falls) averages 16.4 and 15.2 points per game as the Raiders' other two double figure scorers.

Mount Union qualified for the tournament by winning the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament title and the conference's automatic bid.  It is the Raiders third-ever tournament appearance and first since 2015. 

Cairn, 18-9, earned their first NCAA Tournament bid by defeating Centenary University (N.J.) 113-105. Senior guard Jeremiah Harris led the Highlanders with 25 points while three others scored at least 21 points.

On the season, Malachi Hall averages 15.2 points per game to lead the team which includes a 24 point game against Centenary in their championship game. Sophomore center Kameron Clark averages 9.1 points per game and is the top rebounder at 7.4 rebounds per game

Bracketology

The NCAA Divsion III Men's Basketball Championship consists of 62 teams with 43 automatic qualifiers given to conference champions and 19 national at-large bids.

Click here to view the complete NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Bracket.

The winner of this game advances to play the winner of No. 25 York and St. John Fisher in the second round on Saturday at 7:30 pm. A trip to the Round of 16 will be the prize for the team that wins two games this weekend in Ohio.

The Coaches

Mike Fuline (Kent State '98) is 68-42 (.618) in his ninth season at Mount Union.  Fuline has quickly changed the face of the Mount Union program as the Purple Raiders have had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the second time in school history and won their second OAC title in five year. In just nine seasons under Fuline, the Raiders have been to the OAC Tournament semfiinals six times and three to the championship game.  He has led Mount Union back to the NCAA Tournament and posted two wins in the big dance in 2015.

Jason O'Connell (Lancaster Bible College '12) and  most recently served as a Men's Basketball Graduate Assistant at NCAA Division I Eastern Kentucky University. Prior to EKU he served as an assistant men's basketball coach at Penn State-Harrisburg during the 2012-13 season. The Lions' reached the North East Athletic Conference semifinals. O'Connell's duties included head of recruiting, film exchange, creating scouting reports and on-floor coaching.

Mount Union NCAA Tournament History

  • Overall Apperances - 2 | Overall NCAA Tournament Record, 4-2

2015

Alliance, Ohio (University of Mount Union)

  • First Round - Neumann (Pa.) University - W, 87-59
  • Second Round - Calvin (Mich.) College - W, 81-69

Rock Island, Illinois (Augustana College)

  • Sectionals (Round of 16) - Augustana (Ill.) - L, 82-69

1997

Alliance, Ohio (Mount Union College)

  • First Round - Alfred (N.Y.) University - W, 77-69
  • Second Round - Wittenberg University - W, 73-65

Lincoln, Nebraska (Nebraska Wesleyan University)

  • Sectionals (Round of 16) - Wisconsin-Stevens Point - L, 68-67 ot

Building a Program

Mount Union had its fifth 20-win season in school history with four of them coming over the last seven seasons years under head coach Mike Fuline. The Raiders went 17-1 in conference to clinch the OAC regular season chamionship. This season the Raiders have won 25 games making them the second team to have back-to-back 20 win seasons in program history join the team from 2013-15.

Family Affair

Not only is Mount Union's men's basketball program a family figuratively but also in a literal sense for some of its members. Head coach Mike Fuline has two other Fuline's on his coaching staff in his uncle Joe Fuline and his father Dan Fuline. Joe is in his seventh season as a Mount Union assistant and Dan has also lent a helping hand for his son's teams.  

Senior Leaders

The Purple Raiders have six seniors on their roster this season. Seniors Nathan Bower-Malone, John Carroll, Marcus Day, D'Vontay Friga, Mo Johnson, and Tanner Slack. These seniors have helped sustained a winning culture around the men's basketball program at Mount Union. Bower-Malone leads this class as a four-year starter with 107 starts in 108 games. This senior class has accumulated 72 wins with the school record being 77 wins for a class. The Purple Raiders start three of their seniors this year with Bower-Malone along with Carroll and Slack.

Record Breakers

On the season there has been three records broke and two tied. The men currently have 17-straight wins which broke the record of 16-straight by the 1996-97 team. The team set the hightest ranking in the D3Hoops.com Top-25 Poll currently sitting at No. 5. Sophmore Collen Gurley has made 89 threes with the previous record being 87 in a season. Gurley also tied the school record for threes made in a game with nine against Muskingum on January 15. The Mount Union tied has tied the 1996-97 team for most wins in a season with 25.

1K for Two Seniors

Senior guards Nathan Bower-Malone and D'Vontay Friga scored their 1,000-career points earlier this season. In doing so, they become the 32nd and 33rd Mount Union players to reach that milestone. Bower-Malone's 1,000th point came on a first half jumper against Trine. Bower-Malone now has 1,426 points going into the NCAA Tournament. He is currently 6th on the all-time career points list. Friga scored his 1,000th point on a three-pointer in the OAC semifinals against Heidelberg.

Smile You're on Camera

Mount Union senior guard D'Vontay Friga has been coming off the bench for Coach Fuline and averaging 15.2 points and 5.0 rebounds. He also has a Youtube channel. Friga along with some of his friends video log (Vlogs) his pre-game, during game, and post-game to give insight as to what a Division III student-athlete does and gives an insight most programs would not let you see otherwise. He has grown from 3,000 to start the school year to over 104,000 subscribers.

Deep in the MAAC

Mount Union averages more than 11 made three-pointers when playing in the McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex this season. The Raiders are 146-370 (.395) from three-point range inside the friendly confines of the MAAC. Collen Gurley leads the way with 43 made threes at home while D'Vontay Friga has made 29 and Nathan Bower-Malone has made 28. Mount Union made a season-high 19 three-pointers in a 107-70 against then No. 6 Marietta.

Bench Squad

Mount Union's 'Bench Squad' averages just over 38 points per game this season. The Raiders have scored a total of 1,067 points off the bench this season and have scored 38+ points off the bench in eight games.  In the OAC Tournament, Mount Union's bench outscored Otterbein's bench by 35 points in the quarterfinals, outscored Heidelberg's bench by 25 points in the semifinals and outscored John Carroll's bench by 13 points in the championship game. Senior  D'Vontay Friga leads the Purple Raiders bench with 15.2 ppg and junior Logan Hill averages 8.1 ppg. Chris Painter Jr. and Mario Caywood are two other integral parts of the Raiders second unit.

Home Sweet Home

Mount Union enters the tournament on a school-record 17-game win streak. The Raiders have won all 14 home games this season and have won 31 of their last 32 games with the only loss over that span was a 79-75 loss in the OAC Tournament title game to Baldwin Wallace last year.