Benedict Set To Tip-Off Division II Tourney

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By Sports Department

LAKELAND, FL (BC SID) -- The first game of the NCAA Division II South Region men's basketball tournament will feature one team that likes to feed the ball inside to their all-conference big man, or kick it outside if the defense collapses and leaves a shooter open on the perimeter.

Sounds like the Benedict Tigers, right? That is actually the game plan for Benedict's first-round opponent, Eckerd College. Benedict coach Fred Watson said the Tritons are a mirror-image of the Tigers.

The two teams play at noon on Saturday on the campus of Florida Southern. Links for the video and live stats are available at the South Region home page at http://fscmocs.com/page.asp?articleID=3917

The offense for the Tritons starts with 6-7 center Darrien Mack. Mack led the Sunshine State Conference in both scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). When opposing teams double-team him inside, the Tritons have some good guards in Alex Bodney and Jerrick Stevenson. Bodney averages more than 12 points per game and is the team's top 3-point shooter, while Stevenson was named the SSC Freshman of the Year after averaging nearly nine points a game and is also a deep threat.

“They're a tough team,” Watson said. “After looking at the film, they're better on film then we originally expected on paper from looking at the stats. They've got a guy inside in Mack that is really going to give us a lot of matchup problems. He really forces a lot of double-teams. They've got him surrounded by a lot of shooters, so no matter who we come with the double-team, they've got guys who can make plays on the perimeter. And if we play him one-on-one, the kid is just too good, I think he can score on us one-on-one, as he's done all year in one-on-one coverage. It's going to be a tough matchup. I like our chances, but we're really going to have to put a real good game together against Mack.”

Eckerd coach Tom Ryan also sees the similarities between the two teams, but said the biggest difference is Benedict center Marcus Goode.

“Is there someone in our region who can match up with Marcus Goode? No, there's not. They got great guards, they've got a great shooter, they have everything. I think we're similar, but we don't have a Marcus Goode. That size is something you don't see too much in Division II basketball. We're 6-6, 6-7, and nobody 6-10.”

The Tigers are making their seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past eight years, so Watson and the five seniors on the squad have been in this situation before and know what to expect.

“They're confident. I'm trying to keep a good balance, I don't want them to be over confident,” Watson said. “I think we also have some matchup problems. They have to worry how they're going to guard our big inside, Marcus Goode. We've got some perimeter players around who can play. So we're like a mirror of each other. We like to space Marcus Goode out with a lot of shooters. So they're going to have to figure it out as well. So it is going to be a chess match between the two coaches.”

Ryan has taken the Tritons to the NCAA tournament eight times during his 17-year career. Twice during the past tournament appearances, Eckerd and Benedict have matched up. Benedict won in 2008, while Eckerd won in 2007. Eckerd, the third seed in the region, comes into Saturday's contest 20-7 overall.

“He does a great job,” Ryan said of Watson. “I've watched them play in the tournament the last couple of years. Obviously, their team is exceptional, because they've won their league a couple of times now. I'm not looking forward to playing them, but I am looking forward to playing in the national tournament. The guys are excited, as all the teams should be, and I hope it's a good game tomorrow.”

The Tigers are 23-6 overall and have won 12 in a row and 19 of their last 20 games. Despite that impressive resume, the Tigers are seeded sixth in the South region field. They know the competition above them is going to be tough, starting with Eckerd.

“We've got our work cut out for us defensively, but that's why they're here, because they're a good ballclub,” Watson said. “We knew once you get here, you are going to play teams that are very good. We just have to be better.”

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