On January 7-9, Emmaus Bible College held the EBC Invitational, which brought Grace Bible College, Oak Hills Christian College, and Calvary Bible College to Dubuque.
On Thursday, January 7, the Eagles faced off against Grace Bible College, who were ranked #3 in the NCCAA Division 2. Having faced them first semester, Emmaus knew the type of opponent they were up against. The coaches stressed that the team needed to work on the fundamentals and execution they had been emphasizing the previous week in practice. "The team had, probably, the best week of practices that we have had all season and we were really looking for that to translate into this weekend's games," explained Coach Wilkerson.
The first half saw Emmaus hold their ground early. However, the tall bodies of Grace slowly wore down the Eagles. Though they were getting good looks on the offense end, they were not falling and the players began to rush shots or take ill-advised ones.
The lead ballooned by halftime and in the locker room, the same message was preached: Stick with what was practiced. "We encouraged the guys that we were not playing for today, but for tomorrow and for Saturday and for the rest of the year," Coach Wilkerson said. "If they stuck with doing things the way they knew they should, the results would show down the road."
The second half saw a much better focus, both offensively and defensively. Despite being outsized and in a smaller division, Emmaus kept the deficit at 12 for the second half and only shot .5% less than Grace. When the game ended, the Eagles had scored more points and held Grace to fewer points than in their first meeting. This, in itself, was a victory.
A day later, Emmaus went head-to-head with Oak Hills Christian College. Emmaus started out strong on the offensive end but allowed easy looks to the basket on the defensive end. This allowed Oak Hills to jump out to an early lead. Switching defenses midway through the half helped slow the Wolfpack down but the Eagles would enter the half down 43-36.
Not impressed by the defensive effort, the coaches told the team that they needed to step up the intensity and not allow easy baskets. They praised the team for their offensive execution and unselfishness but made it clear that the game would be won or lost on the defensive end.
Switching defenses up yet again, the Eagles were able to get key stops early and climb back into the game. With Matthew Tomlinson providing some keys baskets in the second half and Caleb Ruter having a game high of 34 points, Emmaus outscored Oak Hills Christian by 16 for the remainder of the game and got out of their losing streak by winning 77-68.
Having finally climbed back into the win column, the Eagles were excited and motivated to keep it going when they faced Calvary Bible College for their third and final game of the EBC Invitational.
Emmaus came out on fire as they built an 8-0 lead, forcing Calvary to call a timeout. The break in action didn't slow the Eagles down much as they pushed the lead to as much as 15 before settling in at half up 29-18.
Happy but not satisfied, both the players and the coaches knew that they needed to keep pushing the tempo and playing strong defense to not allow Calvary back in the game. The second half started with Calvary adjusting to the Eagles' defense so Emmaus switched back to man, which hadn't been a strong point for them up to this point. "I was a bit worried because the mental energy, especially, had not been there in previous games where we had run man." Coach Wilkerson explained. "I knew that they had it in them but was wondering when would be the moment that they let it out."
It would be this game where the Eagles showed their potential and when they switched to man, they limited Calvary to one shot on several occasions while forcing nine turnovers. Knowing a lot of the team had tired legs, Coach Wilkerson subbed more often and for longer bouts through both halves. Everyone on the Emmaus team saw minutes with Mitchell Patzka and Jared Mast having a high in both minutes and points. Emmaus finally won the rebounding battle as well 39-22 with the most impressive stat being 21 assists on 31 made shots. Nathan Davidson shared leading scorer honors, with Caleb Ruter, going 7-9 from the floor and ending with 14 points.
Overall, the EBC invitational was a success for the Eagles and they look to continue playing team basketball as they will face off against Crossroads College on Friday night in Rochester at 8:00. This will be followed by a home conference matchup against Ozark Christian Saturday at 2:00.