The Delaware Valley College men’s basketball team is the No. 2 seed in the Freedom Conference tournament and will host third-seeded and defending champion Misericordia University in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Tip-off at James Work Gymnasium is set for 7 p.m.
The winner will advance to the Freedom Conference championship game on Saturday, Feb. 23 (time TBA, site at the highest remaining seed) and meet the winner of Wednesday’s other semifinal match-up between No. 1 seed DeSales University and fourth-seeded FDU-Florham.
The Freedom Conference champion earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
This is just the fourth time in school history and the third in the last five years that Delaware Valley has reached the conference playoffs. The first was in 1969 when the Aggies lost to The University of Scranton and it took 40 years until they returned to the postseason with a 2009 setback at Wilkes in the first round.
Delaware Valley was the top seed in 2011 and defeated Wilkes, 69-66, in the semifinals to advance to the title game. The Aggies continued their improbable run by routing DeSales, 79-58, for their first-ever conference championship and NCAA playoff berth (they lost at Virginia Wesleyan University in the opening round).
The run to the postseason and a home tournament game is yet another chapter in the amazing turnaround of the program under fifth-year head coach Casey Stitzel. Stitzel took over a program that had not posted a winning record since 1986-87 (12-12) or a .500 record since 1997-98 (12-12). The team also went 3-22 overall and 0-12 in the Freedom the year before his arrival.
Stitzel has led the team to 66 wins during his tenure (Delaware Valley won a total of 62 games over the 10 previous seasons from 1998-99 to 2007-08), including 13 wins and a Freedom playoff berth in his first year. After a 12-13 mark in year two, the 2010-11 squad went 17-11 and captured the Freedom title and NCAA berth. Last year, the team dropped to nine wins before bouncing back this season to set school regular-season records for overall wins and conference wins as they went 17-8 overall and 11-3 in the Freedom.
Two of the wins during this campaign have come against Misericordia, both by three points. The Aggies netted a 60-57 triumph in Doylestown on January 19 and followed three weeks later with a 61-58 road victory. Both victories were part of a school-record, nine-game winning streak for the team.
Senior center Jeremy Beckett (Reading, PA/Holy Name) is not only averaging a double-double with 16.1 points and 11 rebounds per game (second in the Freedom in both categories), but his 16 double-doubles in 25 contests ranks among the nation’s leaders. Beckett paces the Freedom in blocks with 62 and he is the school’s all-time leader in the category with 248 career rejections. Beckett is also fourth in school history in rebounding (939) and eighth in scoring (1,414 points).
Senior forward Daulton Derr (York, PA/Eastern York) and sophomore guard/forward Jay Donovan (Audubon, PA/Archbishop John Carroll) follow Beckett with 13.7 and 10.5 points per game respectively. Derr, who is sixth in the Freedom in the scoring, adds 4.4 rebounds per clip. Donovan has hit 59 shots from 3-point land to rank fourth in the conference.
The backcourt tandem of sophomore Francis Arnold (Jamiaca, NY/Francis Lewis) and freshman Zach Sly (St. Petersburg, FL/Faith Baptist Christian) round out the Aggie starters. Arnold averages 9.5 points and 2.8 assists per game while Sly provides 8.6 points and 2.4 helpers an outing.
Misericordia joined the conference five years ago and, after missing the postseason in year one, has reached the Freedom tournament in each of the last four seasons under head coach Trevor Woodruff. Last year, the Cougars went 21-7, including home victories over FDU-Florham and Wilkes in the playoffs to capture the conference championship.
This year’s edition posted a 13-12 overall record in the regular-season, including a 9-5 mark and a third place finish in the Freedom standings. Misericordia has won its last two games after dropping three of the previous four.
Sophomore Steve Ware paces the Cougars and is fifth in the Freedom in both scoring (14.3 avg) and rebounding (8.2 avg). He is also shooting 55.1 percent from the field and has 25 blocks to his credit. Junior Matt Greene leads the conference in 3-pointers with 69 and contributes 11.1 points and 4.5 assists an outing. Senior Justin Grotevant is also shooting 55 percent from the field, en route to 10.8 points per game.