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Big South Notebook

December 30, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big South Conference Notebook

by Jeremy Dunlap

After a slightly longer than normal break, the Big South Notebook is back and gearing up for the start of conference games Jan. 3. Stay tuned to Hoopville for a Big South Report Card, in which I will take a look at each team’s non-conference performance and issue grades to everybody in the class. But in the meantime, there has been some action that you may have missed when you were opening your gifts and traveling over the river and through the woods. So grab your cup of eggnog as I recap the action from the last week and a half in the Big South Conference.

Holiday Travels

Along with the numerous families jamming the airports in the last couple of weeks were a few of the Big South teams, traveling to all corners of the country in search of victories. Birmingham-Southern flew to Moraga, Calif., to compete in the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic, hosted by St. Mary’s College. Liberty and Winthrop have both ventured to Arizona. Liberty is in Tucson as a participant of the Fiesta Bowl Classic while Winthrop is in Tempe, playing in the azcentral.com Hoops Classic. Winthrop’s trip to Tempe was preceded by another western road trip, as the Eagles played at Wyoming and at Weber State during the holiday season.

Charleston Southern was another team racking up frequent flier miles as they went to Colorado Springs to face the Air Force Academy. Meanwhile, UNC Asheville stayed east of the Mississippi River and headed to Syracuse to battle the Orangemen.

Aside from giving all of these teams exposure in areas they do not frequently travel to, these long trips were often profitable, with sizable monetary guarantees returning home for the schools to put into their athletic revenue accounts. The money will probably help ease the pain from the results on the court during these trips. As of now, these long trips have led to no wins and six losses for the Big South teams.

Players of the Week

Senior guard Jakob Sigurdarson and junior center Shema Mbyirukira, both from Birmingham-Southern, helped lead the Panthers to a 2-1 record in the last week, with all three games being away from home. Sigurdarson paced the Panthers from the backcourt, averaging 16.7 points and 6.3 assists in the three games while Mbyirukira dominated the paint, averaging 17.3 points, seven rebounds, and 2.1 blocks.

Team Reports

Birmingham-Southern Panthers (6-3) Last Week: 2-1

Birmingham-Southern has covered both sides of the country in amassing a 2-1 record over the last ten days. The trip started in Savannah, Ga., as the Panthers beat Savannah State 81-76 Dec. 18. Junior center Shema Mbyirukira led the way with a double-double, scoring 22 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and blocking four shots. The Panthers then traveled westward, stopping in Thibodaux, La., Dec. 21 and defeated Nicholls State 88-80. Senior forward Grant Davis was the Panther with a double-double on that day, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

After Christmas, Birmingham-Southern headed to the Pacific Coast to play in the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic in Moraga, Calif. In the first day’s action Dec. 28, the Panthers took on Loyola-Chicago, falling 74-71 in a seesaw battle. Senior guard Jakob Sigurdarson was the star for BSC, scoring 21 points and dishing out seven assists.

The Panthers will compete in the consolation game of the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic against St. Peter’s Dec. 29. Their road trip continues Jan. 3 as they head back east to Rock Hill, S.C., to face Winthrop in their conference opener. That game will mark the first time that a Birmingham-Southern game will count in the Big South conference standings.

Charleston Southern Buccaneers (2-7) Last Week: 0-2

The road has not been kind to the Buccaneers this season, and trips to Air Force and Georgia before Christmas amounted to two more losses and an 0-7 season record away from the friendly confines of the CSU Fieldhouse. CSU visited the Air Force Academy Dec. 20, but the stingy defense of Air Force stifled the Bucs early, leading to a 31-10 halftime score and a 67-46 final score in favor of the home team. The Bucs only shot 19 percent in the first half and failed to hit a three-pointer in the entire game. JuCo transfer Kurtis Rice was about the only bright spot for CSU as he scored a team-high 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Head coach Jim Platt had little time to fix any problems that his team had in the loss to Air Force as the Bucs were back on a plane and playing at Georgia only two nights later. The final result was about the same as the Bucs lost 79-59, though CSU kept the margin under 10 points for a majority of the game. Senior guard Ed O’Neil led the Bucs in both scoring and rebounding against Georgia with 13 points and 6 rebounds in the loss.

The Bucs will finish off their non-conference schedule in Greenville, S.C., as they compete in the Furman Invitational Dec. 29 and 30. Lipscomb will be Charleston Southern’s first opponent and then they will face either the host Paladins or Bethune-Cookman on the second day of the tournament. The Bucs will finally return home to host High Point in their conference opener Jan. 3.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (5-5) Last Week: 3-1

The Chanticleers used the time away from class to move their record up to .500 following a successful stint of games before and after Christmas. In a busy 10-day period, Coastal beat UNC Greensboro 77-72, destroyed Campbell 84-55, played Virginia tough before falling 89-74 and then easily whipped Lees-McRae 115-50.

Senior guard E.J. Gallup was Coastal’s best and most consistent player in the last week and a half, averaging 16.8 points in the four games. Senior guard Brandon Newby also played well, leading the Chants with 16 points in the win over UNC Greensboro and with 21 points in the romp over Lees-McRae. However, Newby was held scoreless in the loss to Virginia, a game that saw Coastal lead on numerous occasions in the first half and make a few runs in the second half in their bid for an upset.

The No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels are the only non-conference team remaining on Coastal’s schedule. The Chants will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., Dec. 30 in a game against the Tar Heels and sophomore guard Raymond Felton, who played high school only 40 miles away from the Coastal Carolina campus. Following that game, Coastal will open their conference schedule with a home game against Liberty Jan. 3.

High Point Panthers (6-4) Last Week: 1-1

High Point saw a four-game winning streak come to an end with a 98-87 shootout loss at Furman Dec. 20 but got started on another win streak by defeating winless North Carolina A&T 88-63 Dec. 27.

Though the 98 points allowed to Furman do not look good for the High Point defense, the Panthers were able to tally 17 steals in the game, including five by junior forward Danny Gathings and four by junior guard Zione White. Offensively, junior center Jerry Echenique led the Panthers with 21 points, with White adding 20 of his own and Gathings contributing 19 for High Point. White (20 points) and Gathings (22 points) were also the leaders in the easy win over North Carolina A&T. This win gave High Point victories over both of the other Division I schools in their county, with the other coming in an 85-72 win over UNC Greensboro earlier in December.

The Panthers will host the Citadel Dec. 30 then take aim at the Big South conference, starting with a game at Charleston Southern Jan. 3.

Liberty Flames (3-8) Last Week: 0-2

For fans of the Liberty basketball program, you have to hope that the early season struggles have not shaken the confidence of a team that was picked to finish second in the conference. The Flames are having difficulty finding wins, losing 87-66 to Old Dominion on December 18, then losing 107-91 to No. 6 Arizona in the first round of the Fiesta Bowl Classic Dec. 28.

But even though the final results have been unfavorable to the Flames, they do have some positives to build on as the New Year approaches. Their two top freshmen have been playing well lately, with Larry Blair averaging 16.5 points and David Dees averaging 13 points in Liberty’s last two games. Also, in the loss to Arizona, Liberty managed to outscore the Wildcats 57-51 in the second half, making the final score look quite respectable. Blair and Dees each shot 7-for-12 against Arizona, with Dees scoring 18 points and Blair scoring 17.

Liberty will now have to take on Valparaiso in the consolation game of the Fiesta Bowl Classic Dec. 30, hoping to end a three-game losing streak. After battling the Crusaders, the Flames will head to Conway, S.C., to open their conference slate with a game against Coastal Carolina.

Radford Highlanders (4-5) Last Week: 0-1

A trip to Clemson Dec. 22 looked to be a great opportunity for Radford to get a victory against a team from a major conference. Clemson has a new coach and has looked vulnerable at times early in the season. But even though Radford kept the game close for a while, the Tigers were able to pull away in the second half and beat the Highlanders 74-58. Clemson’s size advantage in the paint was the story of the game as they were able to outrebound Radford 47-31. Also, Radford had trouble making baskets, only shooting 35.6 percent from the field, 25 percent from three-point range, and 61 percent from the free-throw line.

Senior forward Aaron Gill did his best against the bigger Clemson interior players, tallying 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. However, he was the only Highlander to grab more than 4 rebounds. Sophomore guard Whit Holcomb-Faye once again led Radford in scoring with 18 points.

Radford will attempt to get back to .500 when they travel to East Carolina Dec. 30. The Highlanders will then sit out as the other eight Big South teams open conference play Jan. 3 before heading to Winthrop Jan. 5 to begin their conference schedule.

UNC Asheville Bulldogs (2-8) Last Week: 1-1

Montreat College and Syracuse University are about as different as any two colleges and basketball programs in the country. Montreat is a small NAIA school in the mountains of North Carolina, with a 3-8 record and a student enrollment of barely over 1,000. Syracuse is the defending NCAA Division I national champions, currently with a 7-1 record, a No. 18 ranking in the last Hoopville poll, and an enrollment of 18,000 students. About the only things they do have in common are cold winters and that they both have played UNC Asheville in the last 10 days.

UNC-A easily beat Montreat 85-52 Dec. 20. Junior forward Bryan McCullough had a career day, almost getting a triple-double. McCullough finished the game with 21 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds. But things got much tougher for the Bulldogs after Christmas as they lost to Syracuse 81-63 Dec. 28. Junior center Joseph Barber had a double-double against the Orangemen, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.

The Bulldogs will be sick of seeing the color orange as they follow the Syracuse game with a trip to Tennessee to take on the Volunteers Dec. 30 in their last non-conference battle of the season. UNC-A’s conference games tip-off with a clash at home against Big South newcomer VMI Jan. 3.

VMI Keydets (2-7) Last Week: 0-2

VMI’s season has been rough so far and only got rougher in the last 10 days, as not only did they lose two games (including a 51 point loss to No. 20 Louisville), but they also lost sophomore guard Levar Joseph for the season because of grades and have yet to have senior forward Radee Skipworth return to the lineup. Joseph was the Keydets’ third leading scorer for the year but will have to sit out the remainder of the season because of poor grades in the fall semester. Skipworth has missed four games with an ankle injury, leaving a big void for VMI since he is the team’s leading scorer and second leading rebounder. On the court, VMI lost a tight game at home, falling 66-62 to St. Francis (PA) Dec. 21, and then getting trounced at Louisville 107-56 Dec. 23.

The Keydets are still looking for their first win against a Division I program this year and are also winless away from home (0-5 away from Cameron Hall). They will be on the road twice this week, first at Old Dominion Dec. 29, then at UNC Asheville Jan. 3 for their first ever Big South conference game.

Winthrop Eagles (5-4) Last Week: 0-2

It did not seem to matter how Winthrop started either game of their trip out west before Christmas, as the Eagles lost both games, falling 79-49 after a terrible start at Wyoming, then losing 69-67 after a great start at Weber State. In either case, the Eagles were not helped by the absence of their starting point guard Ivan Jenkins, who is sidelined with a knee injury that may keep him out the rest of the year.

Against Wyoming, the Eagles did not score in the first eight minutes of the game, falling behind 15-0. The Eagles did manage to cut the deficit to seven at halftime, but the altitude and an offensive explosion by Wyoming in the second half led to the 30-point loss. The tables turned for Winthrop at Weber State, as the Eagles climbed to an early 19 point lead midway through the first half, but a strong charge by the Wildcats at the end of the first half and early in the second half led to the 69-67 win for Weber State. Freshman guard Torrell Martin made two late three-pointers for the Eagles to keep them in the game but was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded on Winthrop’s last possession. Martin did lead the Eagles in scoring in both games of the trip, scoring 12 points at Wyoming and 19 points at Weber State.

The Eagles head back west this week as they compete in the azcentral.com Hoops Classic at Arizona State Dec. 29 and 30. They will take on Western Michigan in the first day of the tournament before facing either Arizona State or San Diego on the second day. Winthrop will then return home for their first home game in 28 days as they open their conference schedule Jan. 3, hosting Birmingham-Southern.


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