Reinhardt will begin play in the tournament at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday.
The Eagles, who finished second in the Appalachian Athletic Conference regular season to clinch an automatic berth into the tournament, will be making their first appearance in the national championship tournament. Reinhardt (17-13) lost to Virginia Intermont, 80-75, in the semifinals of the AAC Championship.
While Reinhardt is making its first trip to the NAIA tournament, Eagles head coach Jason Gillespie is making his fourth trip after going three times as the head coach at Bluefield.
“It is a unique environment where it’s not similar to the NCAA tournament with a bunch of different sites, but you have all 32 teams at the same time,” Gillespie said. “The uniqueness of it makes it more exciting because you get everyone there from all different points of the country. It’s been a while since anyone from the AAC has won a game there, and it’s a big challenge to play these different teams from different parts of the country. You want to see how you stack up with the best teams from your level, and this allows us to do that.”
While the Eagles went 0-2 against tournament qualifier and AAC regular season and tournament champion Union this year, Reinhardt also saw action against another squad that made the NAIA National Championship. On Nov. 8, the Eagles played Robert Morris (Ill.) at the Ohio Christian University Classic. That game went to the wire, with Robert Morris making a shot in the final seconds to win, 87-86. Robert Morris ended up making the tournament as one of only eight at-large teams that earn entry.
“We’re going to remind our guys that we competed with a team that was able to get in on their regular season body of work,” Gillespie said. “Like every team, we’re a different team than we were at that point in the year. The thing is, once you get to the tournament, it’s unforgiving. You can’t have a little bit of an off game and expect to win. We feel that we can compete with any team in the country on any given night, but it takes a lot more ‘doing’ than ‘saying.’”
Gillespie knows how tough Indiana Wesleyan will be as an opening round opponent.
“They are a perennial top-10 team,” Gillespie said. “They were the regular season champions of one of the toughest conferences in the NAIA. We know it is going to be a very tough game against them and we will have to have everyone give maximum effort if we want to have any chance at winning.”
The tournament takes place in Point Lookout, Mo., and is hosted by College of the Ozarks.