03/11/05 — NCAA-bound Trojans winning big, having fun

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NCAA-bound Trojans winning big, having fun

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 11, 2005 2:06 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- After Monday's practice, Mount Olive center Sharome Holloway shot baskets and joked around with youngster Patrick Royal, assistant coach Russell Royal's son.

The picture may not tell all of the story -- of course the Trojans are focused heading into their second NCAA Division II East Regional in as many years.

But, on top of that concentration, Mount Olive is a more relaxed team than last year. They seem to understand it's acceptable to have fun and enjoy the moment as the big game approaches on Saturday against Millersville (Pa.) University.

"Last year it was more of an experience. This year we know more what we are going into," Mount Olive junior and Goldsboro High graduate Victor Young said, "We were kind of nervous last year, but this year everyone is kind of relaxed and calm. That's always good."

What is also good is the balance and versatility Mount Olive has displayed all season -- particularly at the guard spots.

All in the backcourt, Elton Coffield (17.7 points), Maurice Horton (12.1) and Melvin Creddle (11.4) are scoring in double figures, while Young is not too far behind with 9.4 per contest. Creddle is the assist leader with 100 as Young and Horton have dished out over 70 helpers each. The group of guards, joined by Kinston graduate and freshman Montel Jones, also have done their fair share of work on the glass and defensively.

Coffield, recently named to the All-East Region second team, has done most of his damage as the team's sixth man. The team's leading scorer and second on the team in minutes played, Coffield doesn't mind that role at all.

"I don't mind being the sixth man on this team. I can kind of sit back on the bench and I see what I need to go in there and do," Coffield said. "Our guards are very diverse. One guards' weakness is the other guards' strength."

Coffield and the rest of Mount Olive's reserves are outscoring their opponent's bench by over 10 points per game.

Obviously, the Trojans were impressive last year -- going 23-8 and a solid, 15-1 at home on their way to their first trip to the East Regional in school history.

Coffield and Young point to even better team chemistry as the key reason MOC is back at Pfeiffer again.

"Our chemistry is better than last year. It's all about working together during the offseason," Coffield said.

"It has helped because we all came here together and we grew. We have good chemistry on and off the court," Young added. "That's what it's all about."

Holloway, one of the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference's most-prominent post players, missed a good portion of the second half last season, including the Trojans' 85-80 loss to Alderson-Broaddus (W. Va.) in the East Regional last season. He's been solid in his return this season -- recording 12 points and pulling down 7.2 rebounds per contest. He leads the team in blocked shots with 43 and is fourth in steals (43).

"We've got the inside threats and outside threats to help take the pressure off of the big men," Holloway said after a 89-66 win over Limestone at home on Senior Night. "As a post player, that's all you can ask for."

Heading into his team's seven-game winning streak to close the regular season, veteran coach Bill Clingan asked for increased attention from his team on the defensive side of the ball. The 15-year coach got just that. By season's end, the Trojans outscored their opponents on average 86.6-71.9 and scored 20.7 points per game off turnovers.

"Our defense has made us what we are. We like to run and push the ball at every opportunity, but the defense has been the difference this year," Clingan said. "When we have gotten away from it, we have broken down. But, overall the biggest part of the success has been our defensive awareness and abilities."

Mount Olive's accomplishments over the last two years have been many -- the school's first regional berth last season and a share of the CVAC crown this year to go with a school-record, 26-win season.

By all accounts, the Trojans are a fixture on the Division II map in the East. Though a rematch with Pfeiffer sits in the distance, Mount Olive remains focused about meeting the challenge at hand, winning its first-ever Regional contest.

"We've been trying to build this for a long time. We've had some outstanding teams in the past that just didn't have the chance to get there," Clingan said. "We're not there yet and we still have more bridges to build, but we are getting closer to the mountain."

"That's our first goal. Winning that first game."