More is a must for Geoducks at NAIA tournament

If it's possible for first-team All-American Nate Menefee to improve on his team-leading 26.5 points-a-game average, the Geoducks will need it. (Olympian File Photo)
If it's possible for first-team All-American Nate Menefee to improve on his team-leading 26.5 points-a-game average, the Geoducks will need it. (Olympian File Photo) The Olympian

Jeff Drinkwine, the men's basketball coach at The Evergreen State College, has a simple formula for winning today's NAIA Division II playoff opener:

“Do more,” he says.

For the Geoducks to win today at the national tournament in Branson, Mo., they need more points from Nate Menefee, more points from Julio Feliciano, more points from Josh Troyer and more points from everyone else on the team.

More, more and more.

“Actually, Nate has to do his thing and a little more,” Drinkwine said. “He’s got to be Nate, but at a higher level. And so do the other guys. It’s more on their shoulders. They all have to contribute.”

Menefee, a first-team All-American, comes into today’s game against Embry-Riddle of Daytona Beach, Fla., averaging 26.5 points, fifth best in the nation. And Evergreen, returning to nationals for the second straight year and third time in school history, is averaging 85 points.

Against an Embry-Riddle team that relies on a pressure defense and is giving up just 64.5 points a game, the Geoducks’ Troyer can’t go 0-for-5 like he did in a loss to Northwest that eliminated Evergreen from the conference playoffs.

“If he goes 0-for-5, we’re coming home after one game,” Drinkwine said. “Julio has to have a double-double. Anthony Gallagher has to have a double-double. Ben Wilson has to get out of his shooting slump.”

Eighth-seeded Embry-Riddle (28-5), which has an enrollment of 4,358, has four players averaging in double figures – led by 6-foot-5 forward Eric Lorenzi’s 18.0 points a game.

Drinkwine watched Embry-Riddle play earlier in the season when Evergreen and the Eagles played in the same tournament.

“They’re very quick, very athletic,” Drinkwine said. “They have a big guy in the middle. They have a really good guard who is similar to Nate. They’re a lot like us.”

The Eagles’ 6-foot-8 junior forward David Butler has come off the bench for much of the season, but he averages 15.8 points – second best on the team. Butler has started six games.

“They’re the mirror image of us,” Drinkwine said.

Drinkwine has turned a perennial loser into a winner at Evergreen, going 60-30 in his three seasons. In the 10 years before his arrival, the Geoducks had one winning season. Evergreen had back-to-back 20-win seasons in Drinkwine’s first two seasons. Now he’s hoping the Geoducks (19-10) will benefit from last year’s NAIA experience.

“Our seniors have been there,” Drinkwine said. “They’ve been in that environment. They know what to expect.”

Troyer and Wilson, first-year transfers, have played on junior college teams that won tournament titles, giving them playoff experience.

“They’ve won championships at a different level,” Drinkwine said. “This is on a larger scale. Now, they’ve got to take what they’ve done and times it by four.”

Evergreen has lost its last two games – 113-76 at Eastern Oregon in the regular-season finale and 83-72 against Northwest in the conference playoffs.

“We’ve got to get them back into rhythm,” Drinkwine said. “I’ve just let them go out and play together in practice. I don’t want them to be tentative.”

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443