Senior guard John Willhite is leading the Gray Wolves in scoring at 14 points a game. Lourdes faces No. 2 seed Oregon Tech on Thursday.
One of the main reasons for Lourdes University officials deciding a few years ago to become involved in college athletics was to attract broader attention to the small, private school in Sylvania.
It’s only taken two years for the Gray Wolves men’s basketball team to position itself in a place for others outside of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan to take notice.
Lourdes (17-15) will face No. 2 seed Oregon Tech (29-4) in a NAIA Division II national tournament game Thursday in Point Lookout, Mo.
The Gray Wolves are making their first appearance in the 32-team, single-elimination tournament that takes place at the College of Ozarks.
“We’ve been able to accomplish some good things this season, and it’s been great,” Lourdes coach Andre Smith said. “I don’t think anybody had us being able to accomplish what we did.”
It’s particularly impressive since the Gray Wolves produced a 12-18 overall record in its inaugural season.
“I give a lot of credit to the players,” Smith said. “Considering last year we were 12-18, we’re definitely ahead of schedule. We’re maybe four or five years ahead of schedule.
“We’ve been getting so much support from the faculty, fans, and students. The support has been great.”
John Willhite (14.0 points, 7.9 rebounds) and Corey Harvey (12.4, 7.0) lead the Gray Wolves into postseason competition.
Willhite is a 6-foot-3 senior guard from Kalamazoo, Mich. Harvey is a 6-5 junior guard-forward from Hilliard, Ohio.
John Washington, a 6-foot senior from Peoria, Ill., and John Brown, a 6-8 sophomore from Cleveland, are each averaging nine points.
Scott graduate Marcus Outlaw, a 6-9 sophomore post player, has also been a key contributor by averaging 8.0 points and 4.1 rebounds.
They’ve helped form a solid nucleus that came together to make a late-season push into the national tournament.
“It all started in the offseason when guys stayed around in the summer,” Smith said. “Those guys put in the work and jelled, and the chemistry has been a big part of it.”
To find a spot in the national tournament the Gray Wolves needed to have a strong showing in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament.
The Gray Wolves, seeded No. 7, did just that by playing arguably their best basketball.
Lourdes came together to produce two impressive victories before falling to power Davenport 52-42 in the conference championship. The Gray Wolves upset defending national champion Cornerstone 67-58 in a tournament opener before getting by Concordia 62-58 in a semifinal.
Falling to Davenport (28-4), a national title contender, in the WHAC title game couldn’t deflate the high of realizing how far the program has come in a short amount of time.
“We got off to a slow start against Davenport, and we were down 17-0 to start the game,” Smith said. “But we had to play three games on the road in seven days to even get to the conference championship game.”
The Gray Wolves’ effort in the WHAC tournament earned them one of the 32 slots in the tournament. Lourdes, along with California Maritime, are the only two teams making their first appearance.
“None of our players have ever been at a national tournament, so our expectations are we don’t have any but to go out and enjoy it,” Smith said. “I do expect them to go out and play hard — like they’ve done all season — and enjoy the moment.”
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.