03/15/05 — Mount Olive faces Salem International in East final tonight

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Mount Olive faces Salem International in East final tonight

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 15, 2005 2:54 PM

MISENHEIMER -- In two years as a player for Mount Olive and five years as an assistant at his alma-mater, Trojans assistant coach Joey Higginbotham had never won at Pfeiffer's Merner Gymnasium.

Mount Olive's success and two wins at the Division II East Regional changed that run of bad luck. A victory today over Salem International (24-6) on the same floor would send the Trojans to the Elite Eight in Grand Forks, North Dakota -- hallowed ground for all DII men's basketball programs.

"It's huge. It's a compliment to our kids. They bought into what coach (Clingan) was trying to teach. We aren't satisfied, but it's a great feeling," Higginbotham said. "All the guys were picking on me and said, 'they were going to get it for me.' Now, they got it for me."

Higginbotham said preparation became even more of an important factor during the two East Regional games -- facing two relatively, unknown opponents. It looked as if Mount Olive (28-4) would square off against familiar Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference rival Pfeiffer for the fourth time this season in the regional final, but a comeback win by Salem International (W. Va.) over the Falcons denied the rematch.

The Mount Olive staff now must prepare for their third, unfamiliar team in four days.

"It's all about preparation. You have to prepare even more than during the year," he said. "Last night, I didn't go to sleep until two o'clock. I want us to be the best prepared team out there."

Following their 72-64 win over Indiana (Pa.) on Sunday, Mount Olive's leading scorer during the regional, Victor Young, was unconcerned with who the opponent might be today.

"I'm just happy to be there. No matter who we play, we just have go out there and play our game," said Young, who leads his team with 41 points in two games. "We're just going to go out and give it our best."

Clingan echoed the junior's remarks.

"We're happy to be where we are. We are going to enjoy tonight and start thinking about someone else tomorrow," the veteran coach said.

Salem International, the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season co-champion, is led by Philadelphia natives Shaun McKie and David Watson with 15.4 and 14.8 points, respectively.

McKie is averaging 22 points in the two East Regional games, while Watson is scoring 16 per outing. Both are guards, but are also the Tigers' leading rebounders.

Each team has proven its depth in the regional. Salem had nine players who contributed 10 or more minutes in its win over nationally-ranked Pfeiffer. In the Trojans' victory against IUP, all 10 players on Mount Olive's roster played six minutes or more.

Today's tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.