By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Home-court advantage is never a bad thing. Ashford men’s basketball coach Oliver Drake is hoping it has a little extra significance this weekend.
The Saints serve as hosts for the Association of Independent Institutions men’s and women’s tournaments Friday and Saturday at Kehl Arena, and, as the top seed on the men’s side, Drake’s squad is hoping to use it as a springboard to the NAIA national tournament.
“We get home games with our conference tournament, so that’s really exciting,” Drake said recently. “We control our own destiny having that at home.
“It’s huge, knowing going in that you’re playing at home. It’s a pretty unique setup, and one that we certainly hope our guys will understand how fortunate they are to have and certainly take full advantage of it.”
Kehl Arena has been quite friendly to Ashford men. They are 15-2 on their home floor this winter.
Adding to the advantage is the fact that none of the other three teams have played in Clinton.
“They don’t have a comfort level with our gym, whereas when you’re in a traditional league — even though you’re on the road — you have a comfort level, you’ve been there, you’ve played there, you’ve made the trip before,” Drake said. “These teams will be making the trip to our place for the first time. Certainly I think that’s huge.
“But, basketball is basketball, and you’ve got to win it on the court.”
The first test for the Saints is Fisher (Mass.) in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday.
Fisher brings a 13-17 record into the tournament and is led by sophomore guard-forward Tyler Shular (17.2 points a game). Junior Orlando Zayas averages 11.1, and Ernest McNeil adds 9.6 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds a game.
The Saints built momentum for the tournament with seven consecutive home victories before ending the regular season with a road loss at St. Ambrose. They enter the postseason ranked 23rd in the nation.
Three Saints — Anthony Woods (15.8), Damon Overton (14.9) and DeAndre Lowery (13.0) — average more than 10 points a game, and Thaddeus Perry is at 9.9.
Friday’s other men’s semifinal has Rochester (22-6) facing Northern New Mexico (14-15) at 2 p.m.
The Ashford women (10-20) face Rochester (12-16) in a 5 p.m. semifinal Friday. The Saints are seeded second behind Indiana-Northwest (22-8), which takes on Johnson & Wales of Colorado (12-18) in a noon semifinal.
Leading Rochester, located in Rochester Hills, Mich., is senior Ke’ala Ka’aikala. She averages 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Senior Meagan Heiden also averages double digits in points (11 a game) and freshman Tiffany Misch is just below that threshold at 9.8.
Madison Wagner is the only Ashford player averaging in double digits. She averages 10.3 points, while Quinn Rear averages 9.0.