Raul Placeres was the starting point guard for Maryville College in 2003 when it faced Austin Peay in the eighth game of the regular season.
The score was close for the first 16 minutes, but then it got ugly. Maryville lost 86-62.
For a Division III team with hopes of playing deep into the postseason, however, it wasn’t so bad.
“I remember us leaving that game feeling good about ourselves as a team,” Placeres said on Wednesday.
“If we can compete against that caliber of a team at the time then we could be right in the thick of things at our level.”
The Scots will have the same approach on Nov. 5 when they face another Division I opponent for the first time in 16 years. Maryville will take on Middle Tennessee State in an exhibition game at noon.
Middle Tennessee is coming off an 11-21 season but went 25-8 and advanced to the second round of the NIT in 2018. In 2016 and 2017 the Blue Raiders had a combined record of 56-15 that included first-round NCAA Tournament wins over No. 2 seed Michigan State in 2016 and No. 5 seed Minnesota in 2017.
Maryville has won the last two USA South Athletic Conference tournament championships and has played in the last two NCAA Division III Tournaments. The Scots were one-and-done both times, but Placeres has been focused on getting the Scots back to the level they were on in 2003 when they played Austin Peay.
Maryville played into the Sweet 16 that year.
“Coach (Randy Lambert) wanted to challenge us that year and be as prepared as possible for an NCAA Tournament run,” said Placeres, who took over as head coach following Lambert’s retirement in March. “Although we graduated eight seniors, that’s what I’m trying to do here. I am trying to put us in the best position possible so we can compete at a high level come tournament time.
“Our aspirations are to compete for conference championships and make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.”
Maryville scrimmaged Division II Carson-Newman twice in 2003 and has continued to do so on a regular basis since then. Games against higher-level teams add to the experience for Division III players. Though it takes a lot of work and constant phone calls, Placeres said he is committed to scheduling more games against Division I teams.
That’s one of the pitches he made to the 2019 recruiting class that he said has plenty of ingredients necessary to get the Scots back to the necessary level to win in the NCAA Tournament – not just get there.
“It’ll challenge us, and it’ll make us work extremely hard,” Placeres said. “We may not be there from a size perspective, but from a basketball standpoint I think we can be there.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to build on our brand. I wanted to do this for our kids, for them to experience big-time basketball...It’s going to be a great environment. It’s going to be a wonderful experience.”