03/07/10 — Trojans outlast Pfeiffer, advance to today's tournament finals

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Trojans outlast Pfeiffer, advance to today's tournament finals

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 7, 2010 1:50 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mike Holloman didn't need the extra incentive.

A knee injury sidelined the 6-foot-3 senior forward when Mount Olive claimed its overtime, shootout victory at Pfeiffer nearly three weeks ago. He could barely stand watching from the bench.

"It was eating me up," said Holloman.

When all-Conference Carolinas honors were announced Friday afternoon, Holloman didn't make the first team.

"I got the call from coach (Higginbotham) that I made second-team all-conference," said Holloman. "He said he thought I deserved first-team (recognition). That was another chip on my shoulder, too.

"I just wanted us to make it back to the (conference) championship (game). I haven't been there since I was a sophomore."

The Trojans are back.

Kendrick Easley pumped in a game-high 32 points and set another single-season school record, propelling Mount Olive to a 124-103 conquest of in-state rival Pfeiffer University at Kornegay Arena on Friday evening.

The top-seeded Trojans (24-5 overall) entertain Anderson at 2 p.m. today for the tournament title. The winner clinches the automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.

Admission is free to high school-aged students.

"The best thing to happen today is when the clock went off at the end of the game," said an exhausted Joey Higginbotham, who repeated as the Conference Carolinas coach of the year.

"I just don't enjoy coaching that type of game, but our guys just made plays. They took what Pfeiffer gave them and I think they were a little tired at the end, but they gutted it out."

Easley, who earned his second straight Conference Carolinas player-of-the-year award, broke the single-season scoring mark with a 3-pointer off Holloman's assist with 2:55 left in the opening half. The senior from Norfolk, Va., surpassed the record (627 points) set by Marcus West during the 2002-03 season.

Holloman knocked down 29 points, while point guard Derek Staton contributed a double-double -- 14 points and 11 assists. Lamonte Theus and Craig Hayes chipped in 21 and 14 points, respectively, for the Trojans, who remained unbeaten in 14 home games this season.

"We've got a group of players who are gelling and playing really well," said Higginbotham. "I try not to let stress get to me, but I did tonight. The guys played well and I'm really proud of them."

Staton dished out five assists among four players as Mount Olive grabbed a 19-5 lead less than five minutes into the game. The advantage swelled to 20 points with 7 1/2 minutes remaining before the fourth-seeded Falcons got hot from the perimeter.

Pfeiffer knocked down four 3-pointers in an 18-4 run that closed the gap to 49-43. Mount Olive responded with a half-closing 16-2 surge, and led 65-45 at intermission.

"Coach always preaches for us to get off to a good start," said Holloman. "That's going to kill someone's confidence because if they do get confidence, they're going to battle the whole game.

"We came on strong"

Holloman scored seven of the Trojan's first 11 points to start the second half. The Falcons (18-10) never threatened and watched their slim playoff hopes disappear in their sixth -- and final -- road defeat of the season.

Mount Olive claimed its fourth consecutive victory in the series and 13th overall in 23 meetings since 1998.