Mount Union Men’s Basketball is ready to return to the OAC Championship after a heartbreaking end to the 2018-19 season.
The Purple Raiders had what some would call a “Cinderella” run to the OAC title game a year ago. They defeated Capital, the 16th ranked team in the country, to claim the OAC Regular Season championship in the last game of the regular season. They also defeated John Carroll, who are always a challenging team to beat, all before falling by just four points in the tournament championship to Baldwin Wallace.
And despite finishing with the best record in the conference overall, they did earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. So, the Raiders have a lot to fall back on for momentum entering this season. And it all starts with leadership from the seniors.
Mount Union returns starting seniors D’Vontay Friga and Nathan Bower-Malone, and they will rely on seniors who are potential starters in John Carroll and Mo Johnson. Carroll started eight games last year, and the 6’1’’ guard will replace Diallo Niamke nicely underneath the basket.
At times last year, Friga and Bower-Malone found themselves doing most of the work. This year, they’ll have a full contingent to rely on with sophomore Collen Gurley being a hot outside shooter, senior guard Tanner Slack, and sophomore forward Mario Caywood returning to be a big body underneath for put-backs and rebounds.
A plus for the program this year is some new names to the roster that can be solid additions to the offense. For starters, head coach Mike Fuline brings in freshman guard Chris Painter, Jr. from perennial state power St. Vincent-St. Mary. In his time at St. Vincent-St. Mary, Painter averaged 10-15 points per game as their leading point guard and averaged about five assists per game. This helped the Fighting Irish win two state championships. He’s a great ball handler with tough moves to handle, and he adds to the Raiders’ depth.
Also new to the starting lineup is transfer Logan Hill. Hill transfers from the University of Toledo. He and Coach Fuline have a connection in their days at Massillon Jackson. Fuline was the Varsity basketball coach at Jackson when Hill was in middle school. So, it’s a dream in the making for both of them to be on the same team now. The 2017 state champion at Jackson, Hill is a true power forward with phenomenal hops, and he even has a nice touch from behind the arc.
The Purple Raiders this season have a lot of high expectations, with eyes set on playing deep into March. During the regular season, games to watch include a rematch with Baldwin Wallace on January 8 and February 9. Marietta and Capital are expected to be big games as well. They play the Pioneers on January 22 and February 12 and the Crusaders on January 11 and February 22 to end the regular season.