02/10/09 — Easley, Hayes emerge MOC leaders

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Easley, Hayes emerge MOC leaders

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on February 10, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The term "run and shoot" took on a whole new meaning Monday evening.

Mount Olive eclipsed the century mark for the second time this season and earned a 105-97 victory over Conference Carolinas in-state rival Pfeiffer University at Kornegay Arena. Kendrick Easley paced the Trojans' offensive outburst with a career-high 39 points. Craig Hayes added career bests of 30 points and 17 rebounds.

The final statsheet shocked each player.

"Really? 39? I didn't know that I was even near that," said Easley. "I was feeling pretty good, and my teammates were finding me, especially early in the game."

Hayes was equally in awe.

"I figured I was somewhere around 15 or so," said Hayes, a wide smile covering his face. "I was just trying to be active and rebound. Rebounding leads to quick baskets."

The Falcons surprised the league leaders by opening the game in a 2-3 zone. But Mount Olive guard Justin Melton buried a pair of quick 3-pointers and forced the Falcons to turn to their signature full-court press. A layup by Mike Holloman and an Easley jumper pushed the Trojans' lead to 10-0 in the first two minutes.

The offense never slowed down.

Pfeiffer cut the Mount Olive advantage down to three points on multiple occasions, but the visitors never gained the lead.

"I was really proud of how our guys battled through some tough spots," said MOC head coach Joey Higginbotham. "I thought they did a great job of defending the ball. That sounds ridiculous when you give up 97 points, but the score was a product of the pace."

The Falcons continuously pushed the ball into the frontcourt and fired up shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Mount Olive countered by scoring before the defense could get set.

Easley felt right at home in the fast-paced contest and tallied 25 points in the first half.

"His ability to play any style is one of the reasons I think he is the best player in the conference," said Higginbotham. "He was running on fumes at the end, but he was still going as hard as he possibly could."

The second half featured runs by both teams.

Pfeiffer closed the gap to 93-89 on a Davon Gilliard bucket with three minutes to play. Hayes and Melton combined to put the contest away on the foul line. The duo hit four consecutive free throws and essentially iced the MOC victory.

Easley made three free throws in the final minute and narrowly missed out on a chance to tie or break the Mount Olive single-game scoring record of 41 points held by Russell Stephens.

"Man, I never knew I was so close," said Easley. "If I hadn't missed so many foul shots. I am really bugging out about it now."

Easley and Hayes became the first Mount Olive duo in the Division II era to score 30 or more points in the same game. Easley also became the first Trojan player since 1995 to score 400 points or more in each of his first three seasons.

The Falcons were led offensively by Gilliard's 16-point night. Chris Woods, James Crowder, Robert McGriff and Jeff Pettiway added 14 points apiece in the loss.

The Trojans (14-7 overall, 13-1 CC) will look to continue their red-hot shooting on Thursday when they travel to Coker. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

"It is always tough to go to Coker and get a win," said Higginbotham said. "We have prided ourselves on playing each game like it is the most important game of the year and we have to keep up that intensity."