11/19/09 — MOC Pickle Classic

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MOC Pickle Classic

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 19, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Never shy away from stout competition.

It's a mantra that's proven beneficial for the Mount Olive College men's basketball team the past decade. The Trojans hope the trend continues when the 44th annual Pickle Classic tips off Friday inside Kornegay Arena.

MOC welcomes Mars Hill at 8 p.m.

Former Division II national champions Barton and Virginia Union meet at 5:30 p.m.

"A pretty good field ... probably one of the better ones we've had," said second-year Trojans head coach Joey Higginbotham. "All four teams are very different. Both (games) are going to be big challenges for us. The different styles (of play) are going to prepare us for different styles in our league."

The Trojans and Barton will switch opponents Saturday.

The two-day Classic is part of the school's Alumni Weekend, which also includes the fourth class of inductees into the MOC Athletics Hall of Fame. A 50-inning softball game is planned on the Nancy Chapman Cassell Field diamond, the school's Recreation and Leisure Studies department is sponsoring a run to raise money for cystic fibrosis and the Pickle King and Pickle Queen will be announced Saturday evening.

Mount Olive (0-1 overall) opened its season with a road loss at Lenoir-Rhyne on Monday. Two-time All-American Kendrick Easley and Mike Holloman collected 19 and 18 points, respectively.

"Hopefully, our conference can represent well (this weekend)," said Higginbotham. "Hopefully, we can both get some good wins and play some good ball, but we're definitely going to play some good teams."

Barton is making its 10th appearance in the Classic. The Dogs return 15 players, but just two returning starters off last year's team. Back are All-America candidate L.J. Dunn, who averaged nearly a double-double (14 points, 9 rebounds) last season, and junior guard Greg Mammel.

The senior backcourt of Danny Sanders and Stoney Polite lead Mars Hill, which is making just its second appearance in the Classic. Sanders poured in a game-high 30 points in the Lions' season-opening triumph over Milligan on Monday.

Perennial power Virginia Union, established in 1865, enters the season with 1,490 victories in program history. The Panthers are led by the brother tandem of Brandon and Braxton Byerson. Each earned a spot on the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason team.

Union (0-1) is coming off its 26th postseason appearance and is just the third CIAA program to participate in the Classic.

"Both games are going to be very competitive ... knock-down, drag-out games," said Higginbotham. "I consider both of these teams as postseason teams. Our guys are really focused right now and are approaching things day by day, play by play.

"Our non-conference (schedule) is really challenging and it's something our team is willing to accept."