With losses in three of their final four regular season games, DePauw’s men’s basketball team limped into the North Coast Athletic Tournament last season with its postseason future in doubt.
However, that’s when head coach Bill Fenlon’s Tigers turned it on and played some of their best basketball of the season.
In the quarterfinals of the conference tournament at home against Wittenberg University, the Tigers pulled out a dramatic 79-75 win in double overtime.
Three days later, DePauw upset top-seeded Ohio Wesleyan University in the semis, with Fenlon earning his 500th career win in the process.
Finally, after a pair of dramatic wins, DePauw won the conference title with a blowout victory over The College of Wooster to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers weren’t done yet, however. In the first round of the national tournament, the Tigers went into a hostile environment at Washington University-St. Louis and came out with an 83-73 win.
DePauw’s season came to an end in the second round of the tournament when they dropped a 68-66 decision to Augustana College two days later.
“Every season’s a little different and every team’s a little different and that’s why doing this is fun,” Fenlon said. “You have to figure it out anew every single time.”
Pretty impressive for a team that, two weeks prior, was in jeopardy of missing out on the postseason altogether.
Now, as the Tigers amp things up to start the 2015-16 campaign, they’ll once again face some adversity.
In May, the Tigers graduated guards Frank Patton III, Connor Rich and Michael Onuorah, forward Bob Dillon and center Tommy Fernitz, all of whom played a big role in DePauw’s late season success and started throughout the conference tournament.
“We’ve got a young group of guys,” Fenlon said. “A lot of inexperienced guys that will be playing minutes for the first time, but I like them. I think they have potential to be pretty good.”
Replacing the 6-foot-9 Fernitz may be the toughest challenge the Tigers face this season. He led the Tigers in scoring with 15.2 points per game and added an average of nearly nine rebounds. His departure leaves the Tigers with virtually no big men with experience.
“With Tommy Fernitz graduating, we lost one of the best ‘back to the basket' scorers in the country,” senior Mark Johnson said.
To make up for the loss of the five key seniors, Fenlon has several viable options he can turn to.
The first will likely be junior Luke Lattner who emerged as a huge offensive threat at the end of last season. His 12.5 points per night were good enough for second on the team and those numbers were highlighted by a 36 point outburst against Wabash College in January. He also closed out the year with double-figure scoring in each of the final six games.
In addition to Lattner, the Tigers will need to see a resurgence from Johnson and senior Adam Botts. As juniors, they both averaged less than four points per game, despite seeing significant minutes on the floor.
Botts averaged a career low 16.2 minutes per game while scoring only 3.3 points a night. Johnson averaged just over a point per game and shot less than 50 percent from the free throw line.
In order to improve, the Tigers will need Lattner to continue growing and an improvement from both Botts and Johnson. They’ll also need to find another scoring option inside after losing Fernitz to graduation.
“It kind of depends on how people grasp new roles and whether any of our new guys can give us significant support,” Fenlon said. “We’re going to be a work in progress for a little while.”
The Tigers will start to defend their conference title next Tuesday when they host Franklin College at Neal Fieldhouse with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.