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Atlantic Sun Notebook

January 28, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Sun Conference Notebook

by Kristy Shonka

Surprising Knights on Hot Streak

The University of Central Florida men’s basketball team was picked to finish second-to-last in the Atlantic Sun Conference’s South division this season, but someone forgot to mention that to the Golden Knights. Kirk Speraw’s team currently sits atop the south division with Troy State. Both teams are 6-1 in the conference, with the Trojans lone loss coming against UCF.

The Knights knocked off preseason tournament champion Georgia State 81-74 in double overtime Saturday for their fourth consecutive win. Their win streak is the longest current streak in the conference, with Troy State right behind them with three games.

When junior twins Joey and Stephen Graham transferred to Oklahoma State in the off-season, the Knights lost a third of their offense from last year. Without the Grahams, UCF returned only five players from last season’s squad, explaining the low expectations from A-Sun coaches and media. After starting point guard Al Miller was arrested and charged with armed robbery and subsequently suspended from the team Jan. 4, the Knights were down to four returning players.

But none of that seems to matter as the Knights boast the conference’s top defense, only allowing 64.6 points a game. UCF has used a stifling defense and a rotation of offensive duties in becoming the biggest surprise in the conference this season. Senior guard Ray Abellard leads the Knights with 16.5 points a game, while senior forward Ed Dotson is right behind him, averaging 13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Junior college transfer Dexter Lyons has been a big reason the Knights have played well of late. He’s started the past seven games, registering three double-doubles during that stretch. He’s averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game in conference play.

Along with beating Georgia State last week, the Knights beat Jacksonville State 68-66 Thursday and on Monday, held preseason south favorite Jacksonville to a season low point total in a 72-48 win. The Knights lone conference loss came against Mercer on Jan. 13. It was UCF’s worst performance of the season, as the Knights lost 85-63. They rebounded though, and have won every game since.

Preseason Rankings Turn Upside Down

In both the North and South divisions, the preseason rankings have held little ground. In the North, Belmont sits on top with a 4-2 record. The Bruins were picked to finish third in their division. After a hot start to the season, Jacksonville State has cooled off a little and is where the polls predicted it would be, second place.

Preseason tournament favorite Georgia State is in third with a 4-3 record. Samford (3-4), Campbell (1-6) and Gardner-Webb (1-6) round out the division in their predicted spots.

As for the South Division, Stetson’s poor record is about the only thing that doesn’t come as a surprise. Troy State and UCF are first in the conference with 6-1 records. The Trojans were picked to finish fourth, while the Knights were picked to finish fifth. In third, Mercer has a 5-1 record. The Bears are the only South team in their predicted place in the standings.

Preseason favorite Jacksonville has struggled and sits in fourth. The Dolphins are 4-3 on the year after picking up wins over Gardner-Webb and Campbell last week. Reigning conference champion Florida Atlantic sits below Stetson with a 1-6 record. The Owls only conference win came against the Hatters, who now have two A-Sun wins to go along with six losses.

Games of the Week

In a match-up of division leaders, Belmont travels to Orlando to face UCF at 7:30 on Thursday night. The Golden Knights will have to find a way to stop Belmont’s Adam Mark and Adam Sonn, who combine to average 32 points and 19 rebounds a game. Belmont will need to contain the hot-shooting Abellard and force the rest of the Knights to pick up the scoring.

While the Knights take on Belmont, Troy State should have an easier time with North division bottom-dweller Gardner-Webb. While Jacksonville State hopes for a Knights’ win over the Bruins, the Gamecocks will need to take care of the Dolphins in Jacksonville for a chance at a tie for the North Division lead.

UCF and TSU will also find Mercer’s game against Campbell intriguing, as the Bears barely trail them at 5-1.

Saturday’s games don’t pit any of the top teams against each other, but Belmont, UCF and Troy State will all need wins to keep their top spots.

News and Notes

Jacksonville Coach Hugh Durham racked up career victory No. 600 Saturday against Gardner-Webb. The win made him the 10th active Division I coach to win 600 games. Durham, who is also Jacksonville’s athletic director, is one of only 11 coaches to take two schools to the NCAA Final Four. His teams have made eight NCAA Tournament appearances. He’s coached teams to eight 20-plus win seasons, and has earned conference coach of the year five times.

Mercer senior Aleem Muhammad scored his 1,000th career point in the Bears’ Jan. 17 loss to Troy State.


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