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College Basketball Notes: Young Judson team taking the difficult road

Judson's Turner Schwarz (32) looks pass after picking up loose ball against St. Francis last January. The sophomore is averaging

Judson's Turner Schwarz (32) looks to pass after picking up a loose ball against St. Francis last January. The sophomore is averaging 10.6 points so far this season. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 7, 2014 6:19PM

The young Judson University men’s basketball team is bouncing from one national champion to another.

Fresh off a tournament in which the Eagles faced a team coached by legendary former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, on Wednesday night they return to the court at home in a game against defending NAIA Division II champion Cardinal Stritch, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation.

“Really, it’s just another game on the schedule because we’ve played so many ranked teams so far,” Judson coach and athletic director Joel Cotton said. “We’ve played five teams already ranked in the top.

“We scheduled it this way in order so it wouldn’t be too shocking facing that level of competition. So it’s not been a lot different for us from a preparation standpoint.”

Judson lost its last game to Windsor at the Chuck Daly Invitational in West Palm Beach, Fla. on New Year’s Eve, and the day before that fell to Massimino’s team. Massimino, whose Villanova team pulled off the 1985 national title game upset of John Thompson’s Georgetown team, is retired but his retirement project is coaching the Northwood (Fla.) team that beat Judson 73-58.

“They’ve been in two of the last three final fours and are ranked 12th and we played them close, so it was encouraging,” Cotton said about the loss to Massimino’s team.

Judson fields almost an entire freshman-sophomore roster, so the 5-11 record to date isn’t entirely surprising.

Players like sophomore Turner Schwarz (10.6 points, 5.1 rebounds per game) and Bartlett senior Frankie Cleope (6.5 points, 3.1 assists per game) have had to provide leadership for a team with a few freshmen who’ve stepped forward recently as scorers. Schwarz had a 31-point effort in Judson’s last win, 98-89 over Trinity Christian Dec. 19.

Freshman Andrew Eck from Belvidere leads the team with an 11.8-point average, Sycamore freshman Scott Nelson has gotten inside for 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds a game, while freshmen twins Adam and Alex Montsma have been trying to establish themselves as three-point threats.

“They’re not gun shy and that’s OK as long as they’re hitting a good percentage,” Cotton said. “Scoring hasn’t been our problem. We’re giving up 86 points a game.”

That is a problem, considering the Eagles are going up against a 13-3 Cardinal Stritch team Wednesday night.

“We will need to come out strong and stay in it in the first half,” Cotton said. “That’s been another problem is that we’ll get behind and find ourselves trying to play catch-up all game.

“Sometimes we’ve done a good job of that, but you can’t keep doing it against high-caliber teams like a Cardinal Stritch is.”

Judson is looking for its first win at the Lindner Fitness Center after four home losses.

Quest for .500

Judson’s women also face a formidable task Wednesday night against a sixth-ranked Cardinal Stritch team at home (5 p.m.) as they attempt to get to .500 on the year (currently 8-9). With a win, and a road win Saturday at Olivet Nazarene, they could go over .500 for the first time this season.

The Judson women are coming off a big second half Saturday in a 73-46 victory over Silver Lake, as Kelli Ludwig went 8-for-11 from the field for 19 points. It was her third straight double-digit game. And teammate Diamond Williams from Dundee-Crown recorded her seventh double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Judson coach Kristi Cirone called facing a ranked team nothing new.

“We’re pretty much doing it all the time,” she said. “Our conference is so tough. It seems like most of them have been ranked. But it’s been fun and challenging. And we’re competing.”

Shooting woes

ECC’s women (7-7) continue to look for some offense after an 89-38 drubbing at the hands of Rock Valley Dec. 30. They are slated to return to action Saturday at Morton after winter weather postponed ECC games this week.

Now averaging 51. 4 points a game and only 21.9 percent from the three-point line, ECC is looking to also upgrade from the foul line, where the Spartans are hitting just 57.7 percent.

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