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Sun Belt Notebook

December 9, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

Sun Belt Notebook

by Andria Wenzel

You’ve got to wonder what they’ve been feeding the basketball players in Venezuela, because in his first five games of the season for the University of New Orleans, senior forward Hector Romero has led his team to a 5-0 record, and more astonishingly, Romero has yet to score under 20 points.

Coming off an 80-67 win over Tulane to win the Senators Cup, the Wave were the newest victim to the Privateers short, but lengthening list. After being down four points in the first half, the Privateers used a 24-5 run to gain the 37-28 halftime lead. Romero, who spent his summer playing for the Venezuelan national team in the World Basketball Championships, led UNO with 20 points.

Romero has been the leading scorer in every contest this season, guiding his team to some monstrous victories including 90-57 over Jacksonville, 65-57 over Rollins College, 93-79 over Jackson State, and 107-57 over Saint Leo’s. Romero has been averaging 23.4 points per game.

But the most impressive thing about the Privateers is that despite Romero’s overwhelming dominance, they have been able to utilize their bench in the majority of their contests.

Junior guard Johnell Smith has been coming off the bench and making a huge difference in the play of UNO. Smith is in his first year with UNO since transferring. In his first two games with the Privateers he knocked down 20 points each night. He even came through with 17 points and six steals in the eight-point win over Rollins.

Also surprising most has been the play of freshman forward Billy McDade, who hails from the state of Florida. McDade has been making the most of his time off the bench. He has recorded double figures in three contests thus far, including a career-high 19 points against on 5-of-8 shooting from behind the arc against Jacksonville.

The Privateers starting lineup consists of forward Kentrell Martin, Romero, center Nerijus Lisauskas, and guards A.J Meredith and Kyle Buggs. Although coach Monte Towe could have been overwhelmed in his first year at UNO he has the Privateers off with a thundering start. But as McDade and Smith continue to star in their time off the bench one can only wonder if Towe will eventually throw these two stars into the starting five or continue to let them dominate the much weaker benches they have come across.

Florida International has also been making headlines in the Sun Belt, their only loss being a 77-63 defeat at the hands of George Washington on Tuesday. Who do the Golden Panthers have to thank for their success? Well FIU like the Privateers has also been using players from the international community to fill their roster spots. Newcomers Eulis Baez and Junior Matias from the Dominican National Team both transferred to the Golden Panthers after playing at Southeastern community college last season.

In Tuesday’s loss Baez recorded his third-straight double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He was also in double figures in a 68-65 overtime win with Princeton and a 78-50 win over Florida Gulf Coast.

Matias has been making a name as well. In the Golden Panthers first two contests of the season Matias led his team to a 60-52 over Morris Brown and a 65-55 win over Iona to win the FIU/Hampton Tip-Off Classic.

Matias had 19 points against Morris Brown and then stepped it up to the next level with 23 points and six rebounds in the Iona win. He was crowned tournament MVP. The other consistent scorer and rebounder in the Golden Panthers lineup has been frontcourt player Nikola Novakovic. He has been leading FIU on the glass as the 6-9 senior has been using his height to dominate the boards and get himself into scoring position, if Baez and Martias need a little assistance.

Novakovic was the driving force in the overtime win over Princeton with a season-high 15 points. Nine of the points came in clutch moments in the second half and overtime. He also had 11 points and nine rebounds in the opener against Morris Brown.

So far the international trio of Baez, Matias and Novakovic has been working well, but head coach Donnie Marsh has yet to find consistent scoring from the rest of his team.

New Mexico State has been on fire as of late, taking a 4-1 record into next week. The Trojans opened the season with a 62-59 win over Texas Pan American. Senior guard Will Morris led his team with 16 points in the opener and has yet to find that scoring touch again.

In their latest win, the Aggies beat up on Maryland Eastern Shore 81-63. James Felder led with 15 points while Earl Calloway and James Fontenot both scored career-highs with 12 points each. New Mexico State has also gotten wins over Colorado and New Mexico while its only loss was at the hands of Tulsa, 71-61.

After losing their season opener against Hawaii, Arkansas-Little Rock rebounded with three-straight wins, 56-43 over Cal-State Fullerton, 82-69 over Central Arkansas, and 84-75 over Colorado State. Who has been the catalyst for the Trojans? Senior guard Jibrahn Ike has been ultimately unstoppable. Except for the Trojans second loss, a 73-49 loss to Memphis, Ike has been leading the Trojans in the scoring department, recording double figures in every game except against Memphis.

Guard Mark Green and forward Jake Yancey have been giving steady performances while sophomore guard Nick Zachery had the game of a lifetime against Colorado State, when in a 25 minute span, Zachery finished with 31 points on 9-of-11 shooting from behind the arc.

South Alabama sits at 3-2 with wins over Southern University, Birmingham Southern, and North Georgia. The trio of senior guard Demetrice Williams, junior guard Chris Young, and senior forward Henry Williams have been the backbone of the Jaguars.

Despite the losses to LSU and Southern Mississippi, the Jaguars rebounded with their latest victory, a 92-67 win over North Georgia. D. Williams, Young, and H. Williams combined for 68 points and shot a season-best 54 percent from the floor.

Western Kentucky came into the season with high hopes, but right now the Hilltoppers are sitting at 2-2. They were humbled in the opener, a 107-68 loss to No. 1 Arizona, despite senior forward David Boyden’s 26 point effort. While Boyden has been a staple in the frontcourt, Mike Wells and Patrick Sparks have been causing havoc as starters in the Western Kentucky backcourt.

After a sub-par performance in the Arizona game the two rebounded to score in double digits in the wins over Auburn, 87-70 and Virginia Commonwealth 80-73. Wells recorded 19 point and eight rebounds and Sparks had 18 points in the Jaguars latest game, an 81-76 overtime defeat at the hands of Evansville.

Denver dropped their first two games of the season before rebounding with a 69-48 win over Eastern Washington and an 83-66 win over UMKC. Not one Pioneer has been able to score on a consistent basis. Sophomore guard Erik Bentzel has come the closest to emerging as a floor leader and scorer. In the win over UKMC he had 22 points while recording double-digit efforts in two other contests. Senior guard B.J. Pratt has also had flashes of brilliance including a 23- point performance against Eastern, while junior center Brett Starkey is also becoming a threat in the post.

Middle Tennessee State has struggled thus far with only a solitary win against UT-Martin, 87-77. The Blueraiders lost two in a row to open their season against East Carolina and Alabama, and have dropped their latest two, 70-58 to UNC-Greensboro and 70-66 to Tennessee Tech.

Forward William Pippen and guard Tommy Gunn have been leading Middle Tennessee State. In their close loss to Tennessee Tech Pippen was extracted out of the starting lineup and scored 15 points off the bench. His replacement, senior Bryant Mitchell, scored 11 points in his first start of the year.

Louisiana Lafayette is 1-1 but had a strong showing in their opener to Mississippi State, who was ranked No. 12 at the time. Junior guard Brad Boyd and senior swingman Anthony Johnson exploded for 33 and 26 points respectively, in the Ragin’ Cajuns 79-76 victory. Boyd was 9-18 from three-point land and Johnson hit key free throws in the waning minutes.

The Ragin’ Cajuns then dropped a close one to McNeese State, 76-74. Boyd led again with 24 points while Johnson tallied up 21 points.

North Texas is 1-2 in their first outings of the season. They opened with an 81-78 win over Southwest Missouri but fell 88-75 to SMU, and took a hard loss at Indiana, 84-58. The trio of Chris Davis, Leonard Hopkins, and Jermaine Green have been leading the Mean Green. Green managed 17 points and 11 rebounds in a valiant effort against the Hoosiers.

Arkansas State picked up their first win of the season, 83-71 over Southeast Missouri State. Four Indians were in double figures for that game, including senior center Paris London, junior forward Kim Adams, senior guard Tony Brown, and junior guard Trevoris Thompson led with 18 points off the bench. Thompson has been making the most of his minutes; he also scored 19 points in a 70-61 loss to Samford. The other team to defeat the Indians was Air Force, who topped them 57-52 in the season opener.


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