Men's Basketball: Panthers tip off 2019-20 season with Black Tie Classic this weekend

Men's Basketball: Panthers tip off 2019-20 season with Black Tie Classic this weekend

LaGrange tips off its 2019-20 season at the Black Tie Classic in Birmingham, Ala. this weekend. The Panthers take on Sewanee on Saturday and tournament host Birmingham-Southern on Sunday.

LC was 17-9 last season and was 13-5 in the USA South. Kendal Wallace, beginning his ninth year as head coach, has 11 returners and welcomes 13 newcomers for 2019-20.  The Panthers have won three of the last six USA South Conference Tournament championships and made four trips to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.

This season, the Panthers have a tough seven game non-conference schedule. LC faces four teams, five counting USA South Tournament winner Maryville, who made it to the Division III NCAA tournament last year. 

The Panthers return home Nov. 22-23 to compete against American Southwest Conference power East Texas Baptist University and Bob Jones University in their own Wingate by Wyndham Classic. 

After Thanksgiving, the Panthers host Emory University. Emory is ranked No. 6 in the D3hoops.com Top 25 preseason poll and has been to the NCAA tournament seven consecutive seasons.  The Panthers conclude play before Christmas with three straight USA South road games. The stretch starts with Maryville, the defending conference tournament champion and a NCAA tournament team; followed by Greensboro and Methodist.  After Christmas, the Panthers square off with Guilford, a NCAA tournament team last season and ranked No. 19 by D3hoops.com; and No. 2 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the defending Division III National Champion.

"We've always wanted to play against the best opponents in the country and this year is a great opportunity for us to do that," Coach Kendal Wallace said. "The USA South Conference is extremely competitive, so in order to prepare us for that 18-game schedule, we need to play the most competitive teams we can in our non-conference schedule. 

"Hopefully playing a schedule this tough, we will be a better team come the end of February as well as possibly be in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament."

Heading into the season, the Panthers return 11 players and bring in 13 newcomers. The team consists of six juniors and sophomores each, and 12 freshmen.

The junior class of Julian Cameron, Lincoln Anderson, Drew Fitschen, Ronald Youngblood, Kyle Brown, and Arthur Jones will lead the Panthers.

"We are very excited about this season.  All six of our juniors have seen floor time up to this point," said Wallace.  "This will be a breakout season for many of these juniors and sophomores.  Every one of them are eager to leave a legacy here in this program, as their alumni have passed down to them"

Cameron looks to have another strong season. He is a quick and shifty guard capable of scoring in bunches. As a sophomore, Cameron started all but two games, averaging 29.5 minutes per game. He was third on the team in scoring, averaging an impressive 12.4 points per game. He pulled down 3.5 rebounds and dished out 2.2 assists per game. He had a career-high 26 points at N.C Wesleyan and 25 points against Emory, making 6-of-11 3-pointers in the game.

After having a strong sophomore season, Anderson will make a run for a successful junior campaign. Anderson averaged 7.3 points and pulled down 5.5 rebounds per game last season. He was a key player off the bench last season, who did have four starts, averaging 21 minutes per game and shooting 58.8 percent from the field. Anderson had a season and career high of 16 points against Brevard. He also earned USA South Academic All-Conference team honors for the second straight season. Anderson is a big body power forward who will play an important role for the Panthers.  

Fitschen is in his second season with LC after transferring from Paso-Hernando State College (Fla.) after his freshman season. Fitschen received the Glenn Simpson Academic Award, given to the player with the highest GPA on the team. In addition, he was named to the USA South Academic All-Conference Team. He appeared in seven games, averaging 1.6 points per game and shooting 50 percent from beyond the arch. Fitschen is a serious threat from 3-point range, and will help the Panthers, shooting ability this season.

Youngblood enter his junior season for the Panthers after averaging 3.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore. He had a career-high 12 points at Rhodes. He appeared in 16 games, averaging 7.2 minutes per game. He is a high-flying energy guy who can also shoot and slash.  He will anchor the Panthers' defense all season as his role on the team dramatically increases.

Brown is an athletic and versatile post player looking to make an impact this season after playing on the varsity reserve team the past two seasons. He is a tough-nosed defender with the potential to get a stop and then transition to offense with nice handles and ability to finish anything around the rim.

Jones is a quick, shifty guard who is also looking to make an impact this season after playing on the varsity reserve team his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Bershard Edwards, Henry Blair, Drew Shepherd, Porter Law, Zuriel Martinez, and Bryan Storie make up an extremely talented sophomore class is composed of players.  Edwards is a do it all point guard who played in 23 games, averaging 1.7 points per game. He can score at any level and facilitate to his teammates. Blair played in six games, averaging 2.2 points and 1.0 rebound per game. He is a strong guard looking to make a huge impact this year.  Shepherd played in 15 games last year, averaging 2.7 points per game.  He is an electrifying shooter; looking to light it up from beyond the arc this year.  Law played in five games and earned USA South Academic All-Conference honors. He is a point guard capable of hitting an open shot; with the ability to create for his teammates. Law also received the team's Hiram Reeves Dedication Award last season.  Zuriel Martinez is a transfer from Queen's University (N.C.) looking to find his role on the team.  Storie is a member of the LC cross country team and he is looking to lead the varsity reserve team this season.

Twelve freshmen join the juniors and sophomores on their journey to the USA South Conference title.  Many of the freshmen will compete in the Varsity Reserves program.  The program allows freshmen to become acclimated to the demands of college as well as basketball. It allows them to play against some premier talent throughout their 13-game schedule. This year, the varsity reserves team has a tough schedule, playing against many top ranked Division I junior college teams. They also play against the varsity reserve teams of some of the best Division III programs in the South.