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Southland Notebook

January 14, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Southland Notebook

by Jason Orts

Conference Play in Full Effect

Southland Conference action is in full swing now, and Stephen F. Austin has raced out to a perfect 5-0 start, including a big win over preseason favorite McNeese State. But the Lumberjacks can not afford to relax, as Sam Houston is right on their heels, and the two will meet this week in Nacogdoches in a game that should decide who takes control of the conference race in the early stages.

While Stephen F. Austin has been the pleasant surprise of the SLC, McNeese State would probably have to rate as the disappointment thus far, having lost three games already this season after posting a 34-6 mark over the last two seasons in conference play.

Southwest Texas started the season like a house afire, but played an unprecedented four games in eight days-all on the road-losing three of them and putting themselves in an early hole, and moving its road record to 2-5 this season.

But when the Bobcats returned home, they once again became the team they were at the beginning of the season, handing Sam Houston its first conference loss and defeating Lamar to move their home record to 6-0 this season.

Newcomers take center stage

Along with the players that were expected to excel this season, several newcomers have come in this season and given their teams a spark. Probably the best of these so far has been LeRoy Hurd of Texas-San Antonio, who is ranked in the top seven in the SLC in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage.

Two Southwest Texas newcomers have also come out with a vengeance, as Terry Conerway and Jeremiah Coleman rank 1-2 on the team in scoring and rebounding. These two have also done it on the defensive end, as Conerway has recorded a conference-best 2.5 steals per contest, while Coleman leads the Bobcats in blocked shots.

Stephen F. Austin (9-3, 5-0 SLC)

The Lumberjacks have been the surprise team of the SLC so far this season, as they were predicted to finish in the middle of the pack this season. But SFA has gotten off to an undefeated start, thanks in large part to an offense that has scored 76.8 points a game, shooting 52 percent from the floor as a team, leading the SLC in both categories.

While SFA has no one in the top ten in the league in scoring, the Lumberjacks have three players scoring more than ten points per game, with Percy Green leading the team, averaging 11.4 points per game this season.

One thing that could jump up and bite SFA later in the year though is its lack of ability to rebound the ball, as it ranks dead last in that conference in that category.

Also, the while the Lumberjacks posted solid wins over McNeese State and Southwest Texas, it has also fattened up its early mark by beating Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana (although the Lumberjacks only beat the Lions 58-55).

The schedule gets tougher now, as SFA will take on Lamar and Sam Houston this week, two games which could well determine whether or not the Lumberjacks are for real.

Sam Houston State (8-4, 5-1 SLC)

It should come as no surprise that the Bearkats are off to the start that they are, as they were predicted to finish very high in the league, actually being picked by some to take the title. SHSU ranks in the top three in almost every statistical category, including leading the SLC in scoring and field goal defense.

Preseason SLC Player of the Year Donald Cole is leading the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.9 and 8.2, respectively. Felton Freeman, who led the conference in scoring for much of the early portion of the year, has fallen off a bit as of late, but is still averaging 12.1 points per outing.

But while Cole and Freeman carry most of the load offensively, the Bearkats have shown great offensive balance, as six different players have led the team in scoring in at least one game this season.

After a Thursday night meeting with Texas-Arlington, the Bearkats travel to Nacogdoches for the showdown with the Lumberjacks, a game that could determine the conference leader at this point in the season.

Texas-Arlington (6-6, 3-1 SLC)

The Mavericks are a very difficult team to figure. They started off the season with a 56-point defeat to Creighton (a very good non-conference opponent), and their only loss in conference play is to Nicholls State. But UTA did beat McNeese State, the preseason favorite, and even with the 106 points it gave up to Creighton, still ranks third in scoring defense in the SLC.

UTA is another team that relies on offensive balance to win games, as it has also had six different players lead the team in scoring in at least one game. Keith Howell is the Mavericks’ leading scorer at 11.4 per game, and is joined by Derrick Obasohan, Roy Johnson, and Mack Collier, all of which average in double figures in scoring.

Collier has been the dominant force on the boards for the Mavericks, ranking fourth in the league with 7.6 per game.

The Mavericks will be at home to face Sam Houston State Thursday and Lamar on Saturday.

McNeese State (7-6, 3-3 SLC)

An early 3-3 record is no reason to panic, but for McNeese State, the two-time defending regular season champions, the three conference losses match the total from each of the past two seasons. The main problem has been an unusually porous defense that has given up almost 74 points a game, the second-worst total in the league.

But the Cowboys have not had a bad conference loss as of yet. All three of their losses have come against the teams ranked ahead of them and two of those were on the road. But Sam Houston ended McNeese State’s 27-game home winning streak with an 85-79 win on Dec. 30, 2002.

Jason Coleman leads the Cowboys in scoring this year, averaging 14.5 points per game, while Demond Williams has been good for 11.8 per game. Williams also leads McNeese State in rebounding, pulling down six boards per game, but the Cowboys are in the middle of the pack in rebounding as a team.

McNeese State hits the road this week, taking on Southwest Texas on Thursday in a rematch of a 10-point Cowboy win in the conference opener, before traveling to face Texas-San Antonio on Saturday.

Southwest Texas (8-5, 3-3 SLC)

SWT has been the Jeckyll and Hyde team of the conference. The Bobcats got off to a 5-1 start that included wins over the Universities of Houston and New Orleans was followed by a four-game losing streak-all on the road-and an early 0-3 conference mark.

But SWT finished off the road trip with a win over Northwestern State and have returned home to defeat Sam Houston and Lamar, evening its conference record and moving its home-winning streak to ten, dating back to last season.

The Bobcats have been led by junior college transfers Terry Conerway and Jeremiah Coleman on the offensive end, scoring 14.6 and 12.1 per game. They are also 1-2 in rebounding, with Conerway (a 6-3 guard, no less) averaging a team-high six boards per game.

Not only that, but Conerway leads the conference in steals, while David Sykes ranks in the top five in the league in both assists and steals.

But the road gets no easier for SWT this week, as it faces McNeese State, a team that has had the Bobcats’ number for the past three years on Thursday night, which is the only game for SWT this week.

Lamar (5-7, 2-3 SLC)

Despite having three all-conference selections (including honorable mention picks) in the preseason, the Cardinals have had a rough go of it so far in SLC action. Lamar’s only two wins have come against Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana.

While the Cardinals are the league’s best rebounding team, they are just middle of the road in most statistical categories and are the worst free throw shooting team in the SLC.

Demany Hendrix leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game and Ron Austin adds 12.5 of his own, but the Cardinals are only scoring just under 68 points per game, which is just seventh in the league. Lewis Arline is second in the league on the boards, grabbing 8.8 per game.

This is a make-or-break week for the Cardinals, as they will face Stephen F. Austin and Texas-Arlington on the road.

Texas-San Antonio (5-7, 2-3 SLC)

The Roadrunners have had a hard season so far, as they lost a lot of experience and talent off of last year’s team, including conference MVP McEverett Powers and first-team all-SLC pick Devin Brown. UTSA is another one of those teams that is ranked in the middle of the pack in almost every statistical category, so it is not hard to see why they are just in the middle of the conference standings.

One pleasant surprise has been the play of LeRoy Hurd, a transfer from the University of Miami, who leads the conference in scoring at 19.3 points per game. Ike Akotaboi is also in the top ten in scoring with 14.2 points per game.

Hurd also leads the team in rebounding, and is fifth in the league in that category, pulling down an average of 7.1 boards per game, making a strong case for SLC Newcomer of the Year honors.

If the Roadrunners are going to get back on track, they are going to have to pull some upsets, as their next three games come at home against McNeese State and Stephen F. Austin and on the road against Southwest Texas.

Louisiana-Monroe (4-8, 2-3 SLC)

The Indians, simply put, have not been very good on defense, which has been the main reason for their struggles so far this season. They are giving up a league worst 81.3 points per game, nearly eight more than any other team in the league.

Kirby Lemons is the league’s leading rebounder, as he is grabbing 9.9 boards per outing, and he is second in the SLC in scoring at 17.5 per game, but he has gotten little help offensively, as no other Indian is in the top 20 in scoring.

After a solid win over Southwest Texas gave the Indians a 2-1 conference mark, ULM has lost to Texas-Arlington and McNeese State by a combined total of 33 points. But if the Indians are going to turn things around this is the week to do so, as they face Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana at home.

Southeastern Louisiana (4-9, 2-4 SLC)

The Lions opened up conference play 2-0 this season, defeating Northwestern State and Nicholls State, but as the competition got better, the record got worse, and SLU is now in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

Over the last four, the Lions simply have not been able to score any points, averaging less than 60 points a game and posting 55 or less in three of them. About the only bright spot for SLU this season has been the play of Amir Abdur-Rahim, the SLC’s fifth-leading scorer with 15 per game. No Lion is averaging more than five boards a game, and SLU ranks ninth in that category.

Despite their struggles as of late, the Lions have three winnable games in a row coming up, as they have meetings with Northwestern State and Nicholls State at home sandwiched around a road match up with Louisiana-Monroe. Those teams are a combined 4-11 in SLC action.

Northwestern State (1-9, 1-3 SLC)

Look at the statistics and it is not hard to see why the Demons have struggled so much this season. They are in the middle of the pack on defense, but have the second to last ranked offense. But as bad as they have been, they play Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State at home this week, and a sweep would put them right back at .500.

Only Clifton Lee has given any kind of consistent production, as he is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest. Lee is the only Demon averaging in double figures in scoring.

Nicholls State (3-11, 1-5 SLC)

Rounding out the conference standings is Nicholls State, who has won only one game thus far in SLC action, but that total equals the Colonels’ total from last year. They are actually fourth in defense, but are absolutely horrendous on offense, scoring a shade less than 50 points per game.

Nobody on the Colonel roster is scoring in double figures per outing, with Earnest Porter (8.9 points per game) ranks as the team’s leading scorer. Porter’s six boards per game also rate as a team-best.

But the Colonels did just break an eight-game skid by taking a 59-54 decision over Texas-Arlington, its first conference win and the Mavericks first conference loss. Nicholls State will be on the road this weekend, taking on Louisiana-Monroe and Northwestern State.

     

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