12/11/09 — Higginbotham evaluates squad

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Higginbotham evaluates squad

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on December 11, 2009 1:46 PM


News-Argus Sports Writer

MOUNT OLIVE -- A critical stretch of five consecutive road games against quality opponents and a big man sidelined with a health concern are the current hurdles for Mount Olive's men's basketball team.

The Trojans return to the court Saturday at Conference Carolinas foe Limestone (S.C.) College -- two-plus weeks after playing at St. Andrews two days before Thanksgiving.

Mount Olive also faces a stern test at Wingate on Dec. 16 before competing in the two-day, four-team Armstrong Atlantic State University Classic on Dec. 18-19. The Trojans face AASU and St. Augustine's.

The five-game road swing ends Dec. 30 at Augusta State.

"Our next five games are all on the road against extremely talented teams with the first one against Limestone, which is probably the most improved team in our league," said second-year Mount Olive head coach Joey Higginbotham. "Our concern has to be getting ready for one game at a time. We are concentrating right now on Limestone. They are a tough team that is relentless on the boards.

"We must approach each day and game as its own to improve and accomplish our goal of getting better every day and every game."

The Trojans will be without 6-foot-6 junior forward Kason Cheeks until early January while he deals with a blood clot. Cheeks has yet to play in four games this season, while forwards Craig Hayes and Aleks Mitrovic are both averaging over 10 points a game during Cheeks' absence.

"Kason is out until hopefully the first of January," said Higginbotham. "We will be able to get him back on the court. He will bring a toughness and physical play that we need to help on the boards and he always plays with a lot of energy.

"But right now his health is the most important issue."

Higginbotham has spent the extended time off working with his team on reading defenses more effectively, moving without the basketball and improving their shooting. While the fruits of their labor may be slow to develop, Higginbotham believes in time they will come to fruition.

Senior guard Kendrick Easley, a preseason Division II All-American nominee, continues to lead Mount Olive with 23.5 points per game. Senior Mike Holloman ranks second on the team in scoring with 14.5 points per contest.

"Our offense is making strides ... slow strides, but making progress," said Higginbotham. "We have really concentrated on screening, cutting and shooting during this lengthy break we have had. I feel our offense is going to improve every time we can get on the floor.

"The guys are starting to understand and see different things they can do on offense. They are becoming better at reading the defense and reacting to the situation."

Despite playing just four games, the Trojans (3-1 overall) have quickly developed a family atmosphere both on and off the court. The sense of team chemistry his players have formed has been a source of pride for Higginbotham.

"The thing that has pleased me the most of this year's team is our chemistry," said Higginbotham. "They have bonded very fast and really challenge each other on a daily basis. We have guys that are really working on being leaders.

"But we are not content, we want to keep a blue-collar work ethic and continue to work with a sense of urgency."

Mount Olive returns home Jan. 4, 2010 against in-state and conference foe Belmont Abbey.