11/21/08 — Trojan met get rematch with Lenoir-Rhyne

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Trojan met get rematch with Lenoir-Rhyne

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 21, 2008 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- When you make five consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament, you can overcome losses.

Mount Olive must become a master at it.

Off to an 0-2 start, the Trojans hope to turn their fortunes around beginning today in the 43rd annual Pickle Classic. The nine-time defending Classic champion, Mount Olive faces Lenoir-Rhyne University at 8 p.m. on the Kornegay Arena hardwood.

In the first game, Barton College opposes USC Aiken, which is ranked No. 1 in The Sporting News' preseason top 25 poll. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

"It's going to be fun and exciting ... a great weekend," said Mount Olive head coach Joey Higginbotham. "Hopefully we can put on a consistent effort. If we do that, I'll be excited no matter the outcome."

The Trojans opened their season with back-to-back losses against L-RU and Catawba in the Catawba College Classic just six days ago. Higginbotham saw good things from the team, but added its execution must improve in latter stages of the game.

"We definitely gave our young guys some experience and we could be 2-0 except for some careless stuff in the crunch," said Higginbotham. "We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. I thought we defended well all weekend, but had a couple of mental breakdowns.

"We preach not making compound mistakes that can hurt you."

Derek Staton handled the point guard duties in Justin Melton's absence. Melton will miss at least a month due to rehabbing a surgically-repaired knee. Craig Hayes posted a career-high against L-RU and recorded a double-double against Catawba.

Higginbotham said the bench played well against Catawba. He hopes the same effort surfaces in the Trojans' second meeting against the Bears, who have won four South Atlantic Conference championships since 2002-03.

"They're extremely talented with a number of transfers and returning players," said Higginbotham of L-RU. "We guarded them well, but they made more 'basketball plays' in crunch time than we did. We're going to have to have great guard play and our post players must step up."

After facing L-RU on Friday, the Trojans take on USC Aiken on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 7 p.m.

Fewer teams were playing better than the Pacers at the end of the 2007-08 season. They logged 27 victories, but suffered an opening-round loss in the Division II South Atlantic Regional.

USCA is led by junior All-America candidate Chris Connors. The 6-foot-8 standout averaged 21.8 points and 6.4 rebounds last season.

"We can make an argument for playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country," said Higginbotham. "In both games last weekend, we fought back, went up and went away from what we did (to take the lead). We need to defend, take care of the basketball and play consistently for 40 minutes.

"If we can do that, we'll be fine."