Trojan men tame Cobras
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 6, 2009 1:50 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- As difficult as the first 10 games have been in Joey Higginbotham's tenure as the Mount Olive College men's basketball coach, a 3-0 start in Conference Carolinas play is easing some of those pains.
The Trojans (4-6 overall) placed five players in double figures and rallied from a seven-point, first-half deficit to defeat Coker 78-68 at Kornegay Arena on Monday evening.
"It's huge," said Higginbotham of the team's start in league play. "We said our goal was to compete for a league championship and we've started off good with our goal."
Mount Olive junior guard Kendrick Easley led all scorers with 23 points including a 10-for-10 performance from the free throw line.
The Trojans led 57-51 on Easley's free throws with a little more than nine minutes to play. Coker trimmed the margin to 61-59 with just over six minutes remaining.
Easley stretched the lead to 66-59 with a 3-pointer off an assist from Mike Holloman and a pair of free throws on back-to-back Mount Olive possessions.
"I just kept my poise and Mike drove the lane and I was open," said Easley. "I'm always a confident shooter and I just knocked it down."
The Trojans turned up the defensive intensity down the stretch as the Cobras scored just two field goals over the final 4:04 and got no closer than 70-64. Coker shot just 33 percent from the floor in the second half.
Mount Olive finished with a 40-27 advantage in rebounding, including nine from Hayes and six apiece from Derek Staton and Foskey.
"We've been really emphasizing rebounding since we've been back," said Higginbotham. "You don't have to be big to rebound. We just have to be relentless and go get those rebounds. That means a lot to us and those second chances to score."
The Trojans sank eight of 10 free throws over the last 1:34 to put the game away.
Craig Hayes provided 14 points, Aaron Dobson scored 12 in his first collegiate start and Holloman had 11. Justin Foskey added 11 points off the bench.
"That's huge," said Easley. "The more guys we can get to step up the better we're going to be. There's going to be days where our top guys have off days so when those reserve guys step up it's always going to be big."
Coker (4-6, 0-3) built a 27-20 lead with just over six minutes to play in the first half while Mount Olive settled for jump shots rather than penetrating the lane or feeding the ball into the interior.
The Trojans began driving to the basket late in the first half and got to the free throw line six times in the final two minutes as part of an 11-5 run to close the half. Hayes' free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining in the half gave Mount Olive a 37-36 lead at the break.
"We emphasize paint touches whether by the pass or off the dribble," said Higginbotham. "We want to get as many paint touches as we can. Once we got the ball into Craig, and Mike started driving the ball, we made some good passes out of the post.
"Our guys were set with their shoulders square and they knocked some open shots down."
Lukas Varga led the Cobras with 18 points.
The Trojans continue conference play Thursday at Belmont Abbey.
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