By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
SEARCY, ARK. — A couple of weeks ago, Harding University senior Zach Roddenberry decided to shave his beard.
Given that the Georgia native never been to Minnesota, he might have wanted to wait until after this weekend.
“I probably would have fit in better,” Roddenberry said. “We’ll probably be the guys in parkas and ski masks. Don’t make too much fun of us.”
Harding (21-9), the fifth seed, faces Central Missouri (22-7) in the region quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. today. By tipoff, it will have been 13,590 days since the Bisons last played a game in Minnesota. They competed in the 1975 Granite City Classic in 1975, taking on Northern State, Lewis and Gustavus Adolphus.
“Most of our guys have never been father north than Missouri,” Roddenberry said. “I can’t wait.”
Harding, making its fourth NCAA II tournament appearance in the last 10 years, has not won a game at that level. In 2011, the Bisons were defeated at the buzzer in overtime in the first round.
Roddenberry, a 6-foot-8 forward, averages 17.0 points and 7.5 rebounds, shooting 63.4 percent from the field and 78.7 percent on free throws. He’s scored at least 10 points in the last nine games.
“Zach is great at putting himself in position where he doesn’t have to do much with (the ball) after he catches it,” Harding coach Jeff Morgan said. “He’s strong, great hands, very efficient. He’s not flashy.”
Junior forward Hayden Johnson averages 11.6 points and shoots 41.1 percent from 3-point range. Senior Bradley Spencer, a 1,000-point scorer, averages 9.4 points.
“We’re not going to win the eyeball test,” Morgan said. “We’re not the most athletic team, but the skill level is high. We’ve got some kids that can shoot it and kids that play really hard.”
Roddenbery and Morgan both said that defense and rebounding will be the key for the Bisons’ chances this weekend, playing against new teams from different conferences. Roddenberry, Spencer and Matt Walters have been together for five seasons, gradually becoming leaders on the team, and they know their careers could soon be over.
“If the younger players see the seniors acting nervous, that will affect them,” Roddenberry said. “We need to have a whole different mindset. The games are more physical, we’re not at home, not where we’re comfortable. We need to be mentally tough.”