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Sun Belt Notebook

December 12, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Sun Belt Conference Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Slow start

From the untrained eye, it would appear that Western Kentucky’s 0-5 start is cause for concern. It may be, but the fact their early-season schedule is brutal may have something to do with it.

The Hilltoppers most recent loss came in overtime to the undefeated Murray State Racers, 100-95. After going into the half leading by five, WKU could not keep its lead late and the squads went into extra basketball. In the extra session, Murray State proved to be too much.

Turnovers were a downfall for the Hilltoppers, just like they have all season. Western Kentucky turned it over eighteen times. They have averaged 17.6 turnovers per game during its season-opening losing streak.

Murray State was just one of several tough teams WKU has gone up against. They started the season at Auburn and Virginia Commonwealth, then at home against another SEC foe, Mississippi State, before traveling to Nashville against No. 25 Louisville before going against the Racers.

The loss was the third by six points or less, yet another sign the Hilltoppers are not as bad as it appears. Four players are averaging double figures, led by Mike Wells and Nigel Dixon’s 15.2 points per game. The offense is not the problem, stopping the opposition is the reason WKU is still winless.

Opponents are scoring 84.4 points per game through five games. During the last two, Western Kentucky allowed 93 and 100 points, respectively. WKU is going to start winning at some point, either when their opponents start getting weaker or when their defense starts improving.

Unbeaten by the buzzer

New Orleans remains the only unbeaten team in the Sun Belt Conference after winning not one, but two of its games during the final seconds. While their winning ways will likely end Sunday against Texas, that’s no reason not to highlight their hot start.

Against Samford, the Privateers held a late, 57-50 lead before letting the Bulldogs come charging back. Samford got back to 61-60 with seconds remaining. After A.J. Meredith knocked down one-of-two free throws left, the Bulldogs inbounded the ball for a last-second chance to tie. Bo McCalebb ended any hope of a Samford win though by stealing the ball and dribbling out the clock.

Their last outing, Dec. 3 against crosstown rival Tulane, the Green Wave led by two with 50 seconds remaining. New Orleans tied it up seconds later, then after Tulane missed-fired from close range twice, got the ball back with eight seconds remaining. Meredith pushed the ball upcourt and found Kyle Buggs in the corner. Buggs fired a three-pointer at the buzzer and nailed it, giving the Privateers a 69-66 win.

Dazzling Debut

Duane John had not played in a Div. I basketball for nearly two years before stepping onto the for New Mexico State’s contest against rival New Mexico Dec. 3. After transferring from Missouri and sitting out the 2002-03 season, John then sat out the Aggies’ first three games for a violation that occurred while he attended Missouri.

So John’s 33 points, leading his Aggies to an easy 67-48 win, made his debut that much more impressive. In fact, it may have been the best first-game performance by any player this season. John went 12-of-20 from the field, 4-of-7 from downtown and grabbed eight rebounds.

He followed up his first game heroics with 26 points against UTEP Saturday, even though New Mexico State lost its first game of the season, 83-74. He went 5-of-10 from beyond the three-point line and again grabbed eight rebounds.

Player of the Week

Duane John, New Mexico State – Amazingly, the Aggies went 3-0 before John became eligible. His 29.5 points per game average after two games is reason enough to think New Mexico State has a bright season ahead.

Around the Sun Belt

Arkansas-Little Rock (4-3)

The Trojans are on a two-game win streak after disposing Harding 90-56, Tuesday. Nick Zachery led Ark-LR with 20 points while only playing 22 minutes. Zachery continues to lead the team in scoring, netting seventeen points per game. Jamal Holden tied a season-high with nineteen points against Harding. Holden is averaging 13.7 points per game, second on the team. Up next – at Louisiana Monroe (1-6), Dec. 13.

Arkansas State (5-1)

The Indians are also on a two-game win streak also, including a last-second 64-63 win against Liberty Dec. 8. Tevoris Thompson scored 24 points off the bench, including a game-winning three-pointer with just three seconds remaining. ASU has been an offensive juggernaut, scoring 82 points per game. Four players are averaging in double figures, lead by J.J. Montgomery’s 21.5 and Dewarick Spencer’s 20.3 points. Up next – against Southern Miss (4-1), Dec. 13.

Denver (3-3)

The Pioneers had their three-game win streak snapped against the UMKC Kangaroos, 72-68, Dec. 10. Michael Watson’s 37 points, who shot 15-of-23 from the field, did in Denver. It was their second four-point loss of the season. Up next – against Colorado State (4-3), Dec. 13.

Florida International (2-4)

The Golden Panthers went 1-2 on their Florida trip, defeating North Florida, 81-72, before falling to Florida Atlantic by two and get whopped up on by Miami. Junior Matias tied a season-high and finished with a double-double against the Hurricanes, scoring 20 points and collecting eleven rebounds, lead the Golden Panthers in both categories. He is one of four players averaging double digits for Florida International. Up next – against LaSalle (1-5), Dec. 13.

Louisiana Lafayette (1-2)

The Ragin’ Cajuns played a great game at No. 24 Dayton, only to lose 66-59. The Cajuns led at the half 40-31, but could not keep the upset going during the second half. Brad Boyd’s three-pointer with two minutes remaining tied the game at 57, but the Flyers finished the game on a 9-2 run. Louisiana Lafayette fared better than the other national powerhouse Georgia Tech, 79-45. Up next – McNeese State (3-3), Dec. 15.

Middle Tennessee State (2-2)

The Blue Raiders have yet to play a close game all season. Their two wins were by an average margin of 28 points and their two wins were by an average of 22.5 points. MTSU lost their last game, 87-63, to Tennessee State. The get a shot to make for their loss to an in-state rival this Saturday. Up next – against Tennessee Wesleyan, Dec. 13.

North Texas (3-2)

The Mean Green had the unfortunate job of defeating this year’s sad story, Baylor, 73-69. Balance has been the key for North Texas this season, as nine players are averaging between 5.8 and 10.2 points per game. Up next – at TCU, Dec. 13.

South Alabama (2-2)

The home state has been good to the Jaguars; their two wins came against Alabama State and West Alabama. Saturday, South Alabama walked all over its western counterpart, 80-50. Unfortunately, the Jags are leaving the state for their next game. Up next – at Georgia State (3-2), Dec. 12.


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