MOC defense shines
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 29, 2012 1:48 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Lees-McRae hung around.
And hung around some more.
Finally, Mount Olive had seen enough.
The Trojan men converted three consecutive defensive stops into points during a late first-half run and eventually thrashed the Bobcats, 74-48, in opening-round play of the 2012 Conference Carolinas men' basketball tournament Tuesday evening.
Mount Olive, the No. 2 East Division seed, travels to West Division champion King (Tenn.) College in semifinal-round action Friday. Tip-off is 7 p.m. Barton faces East Division champ Queens University-Charlotte in the other semifinal.
The tournament winner claims the automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
"We weren't very good offensively early. I thought we were pretty good defensively although we lost their shooters a couple of times," said MOC head coach Joey Higginbotham. "Once they hit a couple of shots, we adjusted getting to their shooters and we did not rebound the ball the way we normally rebound, either.
"We didn't play our best basketball the first seven or eight minutes."
Lees-McRae (9-17 overall) trailed by five points on two occasions, but stayed within striking distance by getting its shooters open on the perimeter. The Bobcats knocked down a couple of 3-pointers that frustrated the MOC bench and fired up a small contingent of LMC fans who traveled from Banner Elk for the game.
There were three ties and seven lead changes, the last at 28-26 when Derek Staton put MOC ahead for good with a 3-pointer. Mahamed Ibrahim's kiss off the glass and Staton's 3-pointer with a defender in his face ignited a half-ending 10-0 run.
"We were moving a lot more (offensively) where at the beginning of the game we were a little stagnant," said MOC senior Craig Hayes, the reigning Conference Carolinas player-of-the-week.
"We were moving to open spots and playing off each other, knocking down shots. I think that was the difference."
Mount Olive (20-7) played a suffocating defense in the second half and permitted Lees-McRae to just two field goals in the first 10-plus minutes. The Bobcats shot an atrocious 20 percent (5 of 25) from the floor and pulled down just nine rebounds for the half.
"We knew we had to pick it up (defensively)," said Staton, who dropped in 19 points. "The first half we weren't out on shooters as much as we were in the second half. We just started talking and worked on getting a win."
The Trojans capped their back-breaking 26-4 run on a Staton basket after the senior guard delivered consecutive assists on two Hayes' baskets. Hayes led all scorers with 20 points.
Higginbotham also lauded Jordan McCain, who pumped in 13 of his 16 points in the second half. LMC double-teamed Hayes on the post, so Higginbotham's staff moved him outside and McCain constantly beat his defender one-on-one to the basket during the decisive offensive surge.
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