03/05/04 — Can Trojans make history tonight at Erskine?

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Can Trojans make history tonight at Erskine?

By David Williams
Published in Sports on March 5, 2004 1:57 PM

MOC Sports Information

Coming into the 2003-04 season, the Mount Olive College men's basketball team had two primary goals -- to win a conference championship and to advance to NCAA postseason play.

Tonight, the Trojans have a chance to take a step closer towards one goal and possibly take a giant leap towards another.

Mount Olive hopes to extend its five-game winning streak and its season tonight as against third-seeded Queens University of Charlotte in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference men's basketball tournament at Erskine (S.C.) College. Tip-off is 8 p.m.

The CVAC Tournament winner earns an automatic bid to the east regional scheduled for March 13-16.

Mount Olive (22-6) defeated seventh-seeded Erskine 77-64 in the quarterfinal round Wednesday at College Hall. Johnny Galarza led five players in double figures as the second-seeded Trojans pulled away in the second half.

Brad McDougald and Marcus West scored 13 points apiece, while Elijah Rouse added 12 points and Sean Barnett finished with 11.

Balanced scoring has been a trademark for the Trojans this year.

Mount Olive ranks 25th in the nation in scoring offense with 83 points per game, despite having only one player averaging in double figures this season. West has a 14.3 scoring average, followed by Barnett at 9.8. The Trojans have had 10 different players win or share game-high scoring honors this season. Rouse became the 10th player this past Sunday against Coker (S.C.) College.

Queens (21-7) advanced to tonight's semifinal with a 73-54 win Wednesday against 11th-seeded Coker. Spencer Ross, the CVAC Player of the Year, scored 15 points as Queens broke away from a 31-28 halftime lead.

It's almost fitting that Mount Olive and Queens would face each other in the semifinals. The two teams finished in a tie for second in the CVAC standings and the two teams split with each other during the regular season. Mount Olive won the tie-breaker and the higher seed by virtue of a better record than Queens against first-place Pfeiffer.

Mount Olive won the first meeting between the two teams 85-81 on Jan. 10 at College Hall. West scored 23 points and Janson Greene added a career-high 22 as the Trojans withstood a late rally by Queens, which entered the game ranked No. 7 in the nation.

Queens won the rematch 84-77 on Feb. 17. The Royals rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit. Ross scored 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.

While Mount Olive is one spot ahead of Queens in the CVAC Tournament seedings, Queens holds a one-place advantage over Mount Olive in the final regular-season east region poll. Mount Olive is ranked No. 8, one spot behind Queens.

Both teams could find themselves on the proverbial "bubble," pending the results of this weekend's CVAC Tournament, as well as tournaments in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) and West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC). Eight teams advance to the regional playoff: three conference tournament champions and five at-large teams.

If there aren't any upsets -- if no team ranked outside of the regional top eight wins its conference tournament and an automatic bid -- it's possible that both Mount Olive and Queens could advance to postseason play, regardless of tonight's outcome. But it's also fairly safe to say that tonight's winner will be feeling a little more secure than the losing team.

Regionally sixth-ranked Mansfield (Pa.) may be joining Mount Olive and Queens on the bubble after dropping its final regular-season game and losing in the first round of the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference tournament. Mount Olive may have received good news Thursday from the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament as regional No. 3 West Virginia State and No. 5 Alderson-Broaddus each advanced to the semifinals; while 10th-ranked Concord lost 83-54 against unranked Charleston.

Queens has won the east region title each of the past two years, finishing in the national quarterfinals two years ago and advancing to the national semifinals last year.

Mount Olive is seeking its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

A trip to "the dance" would be fitting for the Trojans in what has been a season of firsts -- the Trojans' first-ever national ranking, their first-ever double-digit winning streak and even their first-ever appearance on ESPN Sportscenter as the "Play of the Day," courtesy of West's 75-foot buzzer-beater against Pfeiffer last month.

Mount Olive also has a chance to set a school record tonight for most wins in a season. The Trojans tied the record of 22 wins in Wednesday's victory. Mount Olive posted a 22-6 mark in 1998-99.