02/27/05 — Trojan men clinch share of CVAC title

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Trojan men clinch share of CVAC title

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 27, 2005 2:13 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- An already special Senior Night for Mount Olive's men's basketball team received some icing on the cake at the conclusion of their convincing, 89-66 win over Limestone (S.C.) at home on Saturday.

With the victory, the Trojans set a school record for wins in a season (24) and clinched a share of the NCAA Division II Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference regular-season championship. The title is Mount Olive's first since 1999 and its second overall under 15-year head coach Bill Clingan.

The Trojans, winners of seven straight and 15-of-16, will enter the CVAC tourney as either the second seed after Pfeiffer defeated Belmont Abbey on the road. Regardless, Mount Olive receives a first-round bye and opens tournament play Wednesday at College Hall at 7 p.m.

"This is a great feeling, and I'm proud for them. They are a great bunch of guys to coach. We are a family from the coaching staff right through the team," Clingan said. "That goes without saying when you break a school record for wins and win a championship. That was our goal when we set out and very few people can attain that goal."

Appropriately, Trojan senior center Sharome Holloway led the way against the Saints with 22 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals. Before the game, he along with Plinio Broering and Mark Bitzenhofer were recognized for their contributions as seniors.

"We're a team. We just keep working hard, persevering and knowing what it takes to get there," Holloway said. "The sky was the limit last year, but we had some situations that came up like me breaking my wrist. The sky is the limit again, especially if we stay focused."

Holloway was far from alone in the win as Mount Olive continued its balanced play offensively. Melvin Creddle contributed 19 points and seven boards, while Elijah Rouse and Maurice Horton contributed 12 points and keyed a dominant defensive effort in the back court with nine steals combined.

Mount Olive forced many of Limestone's 27 turnovers in the backcourt -- converting a whopping 40 points off the miscues.

According to Clingan, defense has been a point of emphasis for the Trojans over the past several weeks. During its seven-game winning streak, Mount Olive is holding opponents near 60 points per game and outscoring them by almost 20.

"We've been trying to work on our 30-second press in half court and full court situations," Clingan said. "Coach (Joey) Higginbotham did a good job of calling the defensive plays. He made some nice calls that confused Limestone. Our defense turned into offense in those situations. If we move like we should in those situations, we are going to get some baskets."

The Trojans led 63-48 midway through the second half when the team's leading scorer Elton Coffield, who added 11 points, found Victor Young for a back-door, alley-oop dunk.

Keyed by a solid offensive stretch from post players Sumner Benton and Antonio Golden, the Saints eventually trimmed the margin down to 67-61 near the seven-minute mark.

From there, the Trojans turned up the defensive intensity again in the backcourt -- picking up a handful of steals on their way to outscoring the Saints 22-5 in the last seven minutes.

The contest started much like it finished.

With suffocating, trapping defense, Mount Olive charged out to a 16-4 lead in just under five minutes of action.

Limestone managed to stay within a respectable margin by virtue of the 3-point shot. Back-to-back makes from beyond the arc by Golden and Marquintus Jones pulled the Saints to within four at 24-20 -- prompting Clingan to call a timeout with 10 minutes left in the half.

Clingan's team came out of the timeout energized, posting an 8-0 run after a steal and score by Creddle. Limestone never fully recovered as the Trojans took a 44-31 lead into halftime.

By game's end, nearly half of the Saints' total field goal attempts were from beyond the 3-point line. Limestone finished eight-of-20 from behind the arc (40 percent) and 18-of-41 overall (43.9 percent).

"They've got good personnel and are well-coached in the Princeton-style offense," Clingan said. "You have to stop their shot and you have to stop the back doors. It's a hard offense to defend, but I think our guys did a good job of containing their offense. A lot of times they were forced to take some shots they didn't want to shoot."

Mount Olive was just four-of-12 from 3-point range, but posted a solid 34-66 (51.5 percent) effort from the field -- taking 25 more shots than the visitors from Gaffney, S.C.