GAME PREVIEW: Pilots face tournament host Ozarks in the Round of 16

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Survive and advance. That is the mantra of basketball teams come tournament time. After defeating Cal-Maritime 85-75 in overtime in the first round of the NAIA Div. II Men's Basketball Tournament, the Bethel College men's basketball team has done just that as they move on to the quarterfinals of the national tournament on Friday night.
The Pilots play College of the Ozarks on Friday night. (photo from BethelHoops.com)
The Pilots play College of the Ozarks on Friday night. (photo from BethelHoops.com)
This is the 11th appearance in the Sweet Sixteen for Pilots in the NAIA tournament, and they have a difficult task ahead of them to make the Elite Eight. Their opponent is tournament host College of the Ozarks. The Bobcats made it this far by upsetting no. 2 College of Idaho in the first round. One thing is for sure: the gym will be loud with the home team on the floor. Both the Pilots and the Bobcats have enjoyed considerable success in the national tournament. This is also the Bobcats' 11th appearance in the Round of Sixteen, and both teams have 28 wins all-time at the national tournament. Bethel holds the advantage in national championships three to one. Bethel head coach Mike Lightfoot has an .800 winning percentage at the NAIA tournament with a record of 28-7. His three NAIA national titles are tied for the most all-time in Div. II, and he has a 711-262 career record. The Bobcats are coached by Steve Shepherd, who is in his 12th year at the school. Shepherd led Ozarks to their first national title in 2006, and has built their program into one of the best in the country. This will be the third meeting between the Pilots and the Bobcats - all coming in the national tournament. In 1995, the Pilots defeated the Bobcats 99-67  in the quarterfinals en route to their first NAIA national title. In 2009, Ozarks defeated the no.2 Bethel squad 73-64 in the semifinals. The Bobcats boast a strong offensive attack led by senior forward Nathane Simniok. Simniok led the team in both scoring and rebounding on the season, with 18.2 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. As a team, the Bobcats averaged 85.1 points per game this season. The Bobcats rank in the top 50 nationally in both scoring margin ( no. 32, plus 7.2 points per game) and free throw percentage (no. 47, .709). What sets the Bobcats apart in this game is their strong home court advantage. The Bobcats are 13-3 at Keener Gymnasium this season, where the national tournament is held. They average 90.8 points per game on an astounding .494 shooting percentage from the field. However, against teams that are in the national tournament, the Bobcats are 2-5 while the Pilots are 5-4. It is that experience against the top competition in the country that gives this Pilot squad confidence. The have road wins over no. 5 Indiana Wesleyan and no. 14 St. Francis (both in overtime). They also have a road win against Northwood who is coached by former NCAA Div. I national champion Rollie Massamino. The Pilots are coming off a hard-fought 85-75 overtime win over Cal-Maritime on Wednesday night that saw the Pilots shoot a paltry 23 percent from the three-point line in the first half but come alive in the second half and overtime. The Pilots were led by junior Zach Miller as they have been for much of the season. The star shooter scored 24 points on 5 of 7 shooting from three-point land. Those five threes placed him second all-time in Bethel history for career three-pointers made. Ryan Benner, the Pilots leading scorer this year, also had a strong game. The senior guard posted a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Junior point guard Matt Schauss hasn't made the headlines as much as those two, but he has been a huge part of the Pilots' success this season. That was evident in Wednesday's game as well, as Schauss added 17 points. But it has been the play of senior forward Pat Oetting that has carried the Pilots over much of the last month on the season. Oetting had 15 points and 8 rebounds in Wednesday's win, and it was just one in a string of strong games for the senior. Bethel has been known as a team that is dangerous from long-range this season. But having Oetting's presence on the inside this year has given the Pilots that extra edge that has pushed them to even more success. In the first round of the Crossroads League tournament, Oetting had a monster game against Marian, scoring 17 points to go along with 15 rebounds. That spurred the Pilots on to their eight conference tournament victory. The Pilots hope that Oetting will now be the spark for another tournament win. Oetting's strong play really is the perfect complement to the Pilots' shooting strength - which is definitely a big strength. Miller has been one of the best shooters in the entire country all season long. His .471 shooting percentage from long range is fifth in the nation. As a team, the Pilots have a .415 shooting percentage from behind the arc even after their poor showing on Wednesday. Benner is dangerous from outside and mid-range depending on who the opposing team tries to guard him with. On a smaller defender, his turnaround jump shot is deadly. If they put size against him, he can drain shots from outside. So look for an exciting, high-scoring contest on Friday night. You can watch the Pilots on the NAIA live stream here. Tip off is set for 8:30 p.m. eastern time.  
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