It had been a 19-year gap between NCAA appearances for Denison men's basketball. Despite suffering a 74-60 loss to Alma College in the first round of tonight's NCAA Division III Tournament, the foundation has been set. A bit of advice to all Denison fans…Don't circle your calendars for 2035. This program is going places.
Alma entered the first round game that was being played in Cleveland, Ohio on the campus of John Carroll University, leading the nation in field goal percentage all the while playing a suffocating zone defense that stymied the Big Red in the early going.
The Scots jumped out to a 23-10 lead midway through the first half spurring them to a 38-29 lead at the break. Alma shot 56 percent from the field in the opening half. Denison shot 10-for-29 in the first 20 minutes but made a quick run cutting the deficit to seven with 1:52 remaining.
In the second half, Denison continued to hang around and with 13:46 left, Patrick Keller's bucket cut the Alma lead to seven at 48-41. An 11-2 run over a span of four minutes by the Scots sealed Denison's fate. DJ Beckman's layup with just under six minutes to play gave Alma its biggest lead at 19 points. One minute later Darius White knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner but there just wasn't enough time for DU to mount one of their patented comebacks.
Alma shot 54 percent as a team and drilled 7-of-17 from beyond the arc. Five players scored in double figures for the Scots as DJ Beckman led the way with 17 points. Scott Nikodemski followed with 15 while Jason Beckman added 14 points, six rebounds and four assists off the bench.
Denison was led by Jett Speelman's 15 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes. In his first season with the Big Red, Speelman led the team in scoring at 18.2 ppg while receiving NCAC Newcomer of the Year accolades.
Senior guard Darius White finished with 12 points and four assists in his final collegiate game. White leaves DU as its all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 236 and is a career 39 percent shooter from long distance.
David Meurer checked in with 12 points, six assists, and two steals in 24 minutes off the bench.
The Big Red's season comes to an end with a record of 17-12. Alma (22-6) advances to the second round to face the winner of John Carroll-St. Vincent on Saturday at 7 p.m.