Junior Shane Merryman’s strong performance this season has vaulted the Foresters into the Crossroads League tournament. Merryman has been the top offensive performer in the conference.
A shaky month of January narrowed the Foresters’ (16-13, 7-10) lead over Mount Vernon Nazarene University (11-18, 3-14) to just two games before Huntington exploded for a four-game winning streak, including wins over No. 18 Bethel College and No. 25 Taylor University. The Foresters earned their tournament bid with three games to go in the season.
“Our goal is the same — to win every game,” Ty Platt, head coach, said. “We’re trying to keep this string together here … trying to go into the conference tournament having won five games in a row.”
Merryman, the fifth highest scorer in the NAIA Division II, has led the way offensively. He has averaged 22.75 points per game during the winning streak, compared to 15.17 during the six-game losing streak in mid-January.
The double-team has been a challenge for the leading scorer. Platt said that during the conference season Merryman has seen a lot of double-teams, but the rest of the team will have to step up when that happens.
“You have to be able to hit the open man to combat the double team, and Shane does a pretty good job of that,” Platt said. “Every team that we play will try to do what they can to stop Shane so the other guys will have to step up.”
Merryman, who also boasts the seventh-best shooting percentage in DII (0.621), has scored 37 more points than the University of Saint Francis’ Scott Kohne, his closest Crossroads League competitor. He said he realizes that the double-team will be a factor in how he plays, but the team has a plan to beat it.
“Mainly just passing out of it — an open shot is better than a contested one,” Merryman said. “With two people on me, I can find the open guy, and pass it out to them and they hit the shot, that’s better than me going one against two.”
The three-point shot could be emphasized the rest of the way for the Foresters if Merryman can distract defenders inside. Platt said it would be a necessity if they find it too difficult to drive to the basket.
“We have to be ready to step up and hit shots and knock down the three point shot instead of just driving the ball to the basket,” Platt said. “We feel like we have players who can do that, though three-point shooting can be pretty streaky at times, especially with our team.”
He Foresters have lost five conference games by ten or more points this season, however have a 3-2 conference record in games decided by four points or less. Platt said this is due to a lack of depth and turnover problems throughout the season, and the key will be maximizing possessions to keep games more manageable.
“Our league is so tough and each team is so good, that each possession means something,” he said. “We just need to come away with more productive possessions each time.”
Merryman agreed with Platt on the turnovers. He said there are many little things that they will have to do to turn games in their favor, but taking care of the ball is the most important.
“We score at a high rate and are fairly efficient when we shoot, but the 15 turnovers per game is like 15 missed shots,” Merryman said. “If we can get that down to 10 or less, I think that would help us out tremendously.”
Platt said he believes the conference tournament is wide open, despite the seeds or ranks of each team.
“You always want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season,” he said. “Given all of the teams in our conference, every one of them can be beaten and beat you.”
The Foresters have a tough road ahead of them. Every tournament game will be an away game, and HU has lost every game on the road to the other tournament competitors. The conference tournament will start for the Foresters with a 7 p.m. tipoff at Indiana Wesleyan University on Feb. 20.