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Cougars wrap up 2016-17 season

This season, the MVNU men's basketball team (19-12, 8-10) matched its highest overall win total since joining the Crossroads League in 2011.

The Cougars’ season has been highlighted by wins over five of the top 25 ranked teams including No. 3 Indiana Wesleyan University, No. 20 University of Saint Francis and No. 16 Taylor University.

Head Coach Jared Ronai said he is happy with MVNU’s “great year.”

“They committed themselves to a process-driven culture, and I can't thank them enough for that commitment,” Ronai said.

MVNU ended its regular season on Feb. 18 when Huntington University edged out the Cougars 88-78. The Cougars finished the season ranked sixth in the Crossroads League standings.

Postseason play pitted the Cougars against the University of Saint Francis (22-9, 11-7) last Wednesday for the Crossroads League quarterfinals. No. 15 Saint Francis knocked the Cougars out of the tournament with a 68-56 victory.

The game was a defensive battle between the two teams throughout the first half and the score was tied multiple times. However, MVNU was unable to gain the lead past the first three minutes.

The first half ended with Saint Frances leading 34-28.

In the second half, a pair of back-to-back three-pointers from senior Deontae Cole brought the Cougars within one with 9:39 left in the game.

The score remained tight for the next few minutes of play but Saint Francis pulled away after a series of MVNU turnovers.

Ronai said he was proud of the guys’ effort in this game and all season long.

“They battled, competed and fought every single day to be the best they could be,” he said.

He was extremely happy with the Cougars' "next man up" mentality. "When someone went down with an injury, the next man stepped up,” he said.

Senior Josh Ashwill and freshman Trey McBride were unable to play in the final game of the season due to injuries. McBride sprained his wrist during the game at Bethel College on Feb. 11. Ashwill broke his foot during the last home game of the season against Huntington University on Feb. 18.

As a team the Cougars are ranked ninth in NAIA Division II for total rebound defense (32.032) and 15th in total blocks (119). They tallied 17th for blocks per game (3.839) and 20th for total three-point field goals made (283).

Sophomore Brett Vipperman led MVNU’s offensive attack for the season, averaging 14.7 points per game and 5.3 rebounds. Vipperman scored a career-high 24 points against Saint Francis and matched his career-high two games in a row against Goshen College and Bethel College.

Senior Josh Ashwill tallied 13.6 points per game and his defensive effort received league recognition. Ashwill is ranked fifth in the Crossroads League for rebounds per game, averaging 7.5. He also dished out 5.4 assists per game, earning him third in the conference.

The senior guard recorded his 1,000th career point against Grace College and scored a career-high 27 points against Taylor University in January. The following game against Goshen College Ashwill recorded his first career triple double (14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).

McBride and Cole also stood out for the Cougars this season.

McBride averaged 12.4 points per game, the third highest in the Cougar lineup. Cole, a transfer from Northern Kentucky University, averaged 10.7 points per game, making an immediate impact on the court.

Junior Joey Schmitz, a sharpshooter who comes off the bench, is known for his three-point shots. He sits at 50 percent from the arc, sixth in the nation.

Senior Patrick Lucas, a defensive anchor for the Cougars, provides height and power under the basket. He averaged 6.1 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game during his final regular season.

Ronai said he hates to see the season end.

“My heart hurts for Josh, Pat and Deontae as their careers here at MVNU have ended,” he said. “They have much to be proud of as they helped lay the foundation of our culture and success. It was an honor to coach this group of young men.”

For the complete story on the graduating seniors, click here.

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