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Thiel big man Mallinger thrives on rejection

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 26, 2014 12:22 a.m
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Thiel athletics
Thiel's Eric Mallinger, an Allderdice graduate, said his volleyball background helped him with his shot blocking.

Blocks and rebounds seem to come easy for Thiel senior Eric Mallinger.

If he can polish his offense, the 6-foot-6 Allderdice graduate could establish himself as the best post player in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. He already has one vote.

“In my opinion, he’s probably the best big man in the conference,” said teammate Luke Kochka, a Gateway product. “He pretty much blocks everything and grabs every rebound.”

Mallinger led the PAC and ranked 12th in NCAA Division III with 2.9 blocks per game last season, and his 9.3 rebounds were second in the conference. This season, Mallinger is averaging 11 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for Thiel (2-3). On Saturday, he set the school’s all-time blocks record with his 114th.

Mallinger credits another sport for his shot-blocking prowess.

“As I grew up, I started playing volleyball, and that actually helped me a lot with my timing to go get the ball and just jumping in general,” said Mallinger, who played volleyball at Thiel last season. “Blocking shots is pretty much all timing, in my opinion.”

Offense was Mallinger’s focus in the offseason, as he spent hours working with a shooting machine in an attempt to extend his range. Mallinger won’t be hoisting 3-pointers anytime soon, but he has made major strides since his freshman season.

“When he got here, he could barely make layups,” ninth-year Tomcats coach Tim Loomis said. “Now he’s developed. He’s an around-the-hoop player who can score from 10 to 12 feet in.

“In high school, when we watched him play he never touched the ball. So you’d have to go watch him warm up to see what he did. We knew he had a lot of potential. He was athletic and he could rebound, and that’s what I look for when I recruit. That, and he was tough.”

After spending his first two seasons as a reserve, Mallinger started all 23 games as a junior, averaging 10.8 points and earning second-team all-conference honors. Now, he possesses an array of post moves and is one of the Tomcats’ go-to players.

“We kind of built our system around him this year,” Loomis said. “We’re more of a pound-the-ball-inside team. That’s our main objective. We play inside-out. We try to get him a lot of a touches.”

Perhaps the biggest weakness left in Mallinger’s game is his free-throw shooting. He is 15 of 41 on the season (37 percent), including 3 for 14 in a season-opening victory over Penn State Beaver. Mallinger still had 19 points and 14 rebounds in that game, but opponents will continue to send him to the line if he doesn’t improve.

Thiel was predicted to finish fifth in the PAC preseason poll, but the Tomcats were one of five teams to receive a first-place vote in what appears to be a wide-open league. Mallinger said he likes his team’s chances.

“If I could lead my team to a championship here, that would mean everything,” he said. “That’s the big goal, and then build from there.”

Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jvella@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @JeffVella_Trib.

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