01/22/09 — Trojans look ahead to Bulldogs

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Trojans look ahead to Bulldogs

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 22, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Bitter archrivals Mount Olive and Barton College agree there are three stages to their respective men's basketball seasons.

There's non-conference play.

Then you have Conference Carolinas play.

Finally, there are two Trojans-Bulldogs contests -- that in their own right -- turn into unique affairs.

The heated rivals renew their series today at Kornegay Arena. The Bulldogs (11-3 overall) lead the conference at 8-0 with the Trojans (8-7) just one game behind at 7-1. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.

Barton holds a 16-15 advantage in the series since the 1997-98 season and has won eight of the last 10 meetings. Mount Olive took two of three contests last season, winning both the regular-season and conference tournament games played at Kornegay Arena.

The Bulldogs had won seven games in a row in the series before Mount Olive earned an 84-63 victory in the first game between the two rivals a year ago.

"We have to be ready for Thursday night," said Trojans' first-year head coach Joey Higginbotham. "It's going to be packed, and it's No. 1 and No. 2 in the league."

The Bulldogs have won nine straight games despite having just three players averaging in double figures. L.J. Dunn leads Barton with 12.7 points per game and Aaron Suggs scores 11.4 per contest. The Bulldogs are averaging 41.5 rebounds a game and have outrebounded nine of their 14 opponents.

The Trojans were outrebounded 42-28 in a 73-70 win over Queens on Monday afternoon and are averaging just over a rebound more per game than their opponents.

Queens erased a 20-point first half deficit and took a late lead before Craig Hayes and Kendrick Easley combined to knock down four free throws in the final minute to help Mount Olive earn the win.

"We have to rebound the ball," said Higginbotham. "Barton is relentless on the boards and we have got to rebound the basketball. If we don't rebound the ball, it's going to be a long night."

The Trojans did force 25 turnovers on Monday afternoon including 17 in the first half. Justin Melton and Easley lead the team with 23 and 22 steals, respectively, and Higginbotham said executing on the defensive end will be critical in slowing down the Bulldogs.

"We just have to defend one possession at a time and we've got to defend with intensity," said Higginbotham. "I think our offense will come. We just have to get stops at the defensive end and really rebound the ball."