01/04/12 — Hayes enjoys career night for MOC

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Hayes enjoys career night for MOC

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 4, 2012 1:48 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Joey Higginbotham's screaming voice could be heard over the loud music blaring inside Kornegay Arena.

Higginbotham sat surrounded by his Mount Olive players during a timeout, his neck tie long gone, furiously imploring his team to bring more intensity on the defensive end. There was little about Higginbotham's body language that indicated the Trojans had an 11-point lead early in the second half.

Mount Olive struggled defensively all night but held on in a 68-62 win over Coker on Tuesday evening inside Kornegay Arena. It was the Conference Carolinas opener for both teams.

The Trojans (8-3, 1-0 CC) led 53-36 with more than 13 minutes to play in the second half. Mount Olive could not get defensive stops with consistency and the Cobras (6-4, 0-1) continued to chip away at the deficit. Jonathon Gardner's 3-pointer was part of an 18-5 run that pulled Coker to within 58-54.

Julian Nelson's lay-up with two minutes left in the game cut the deficit to 63-60. Derek Staton knocked down a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired on the Trojans' next possession. Mount Olive got key stops on Coker's final two offensive trips down the floor.

"We did a better job down the stretch guarding than I thought we did earlier," Higginbotham said. "They're a scrappy bunch and we just couldn't put them away. They were there at the end and made it a game. I didn't think we played with any kind of urgency on the defensive end until the last two minutes of the game."

Senior forward Craig Hayes led Mount Olive with a career-high 35 points to go with 12 rebounds. Hayes improved upon a career-best 30-point performance against Pfeiffer on Feb. 9, 2009. Kason Cheeks added 14 points and nine rebounds.

"At the beginning of the game they were getting me the ball quickly and I knew that the defense was going to collapse and I wanted to score quick," Hayes said. "I saw that the offense wasn't hitting shots. I felt like I was stronger than some of the guys guarding me and I wanted to use that to my advantage."

The Trojans shot just 41 percent from the floor and committed 17 turnovers. Hayes and Cheeks were the only two Mount Olive players to score in double figures.

The Trojans scored eight unanswered points late in the first half and led 39-30 at halftime. Hayes scored 21 of his 35 points in just 13 minutes during the opening half. Mount Olive earned its 21st consecutive win over Coker.

The Trojans continue conference play on Thursday at Pfeiffer.