02/14/10 — Trojans claim third straight conference title

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Trojans claim third straight conference title

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 14, 2010 1:51 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Three-peat complete.

A loss avenged.

And a halftime speech that can't be repeated.

Mount Olive toiled through a sluggish opening half and achieved one preseason goal Saturday evening. Starters Kendrick Easley and Lamonte Theus scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, as the Trojans defeated Erskine 68-55 inside Kornegay Arena.

The Trojans secured their third consecutive Conference Carolinas regular-season men's basketball championship and No. 1 seed for the league tournament.

"Yes, we clinched the number one seed and that was one of our goals, but it's not over," said Mount Olive head coach Joey Higginbotham. "We've still got to play and we're going to get everybody's best shot, and we have to continue to get better."

Just two days ago, Easley converted the game-winning shot at the buzzer to defeat archrival Barton College. The Trojans (19-1, 16-1 CC) appeared to still be caught in the emotion from that game, and struggled against the Flying Fleet, which hoped for a repeat of last year's final visit to MOC.

Erskine (9-14, 6-10) pulled a stunning quarterfinal-round upset in the conference tournament. And this time, the Flying Fleet grabbed a seven-point advantage late in the opening half before the Trojans woke up offensively.

MOC, ranked No. 4 in the Southeast Region, trailed by five at the break.

"They were down, upset at themselves, which they should have been," said Higginbotham. "I jumped on them short and quick, maybe two or three minutes and didn't say anything else to them. The second half, we played an entirely different ballgame and got a good result."

The Trojans opened the second half with a 14-0 run and never looked back.

The Flying Fleet managed just 14 points in a 17-minute stretch that included the final minute of the first half. Erskine shot a paltry 31 percent from the floor in the last 20 minutes, compared to 50 percent by the Trojans.

"I was not very pleased with our rebounding and defense in the first half," said Higginbotham. "In the second half, we finally defended, got stops, got on the boards and rebounded. Kendrick got warmed up and we started hitting outside shots, which you have to do against those guys.

"We did a better job executing our offense, setting our screens in the right places and getting the guys in the right area to get those good shots."

Easley, Theus and Holloman combined for 30 second-half points as Mount Olive earned a regular-season sweep of Erskine for the seventh consecutive year. Brandon Allen added 12 points, while Craig Hayes scored nine.