02/08/13 — Trojan men's basketball team has adopted well to new philosophy

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Trojan men's basketball team has adopted well to new philosophy

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on February 8, 2013 1:47 PM

Play for each other is the conclusion the Mount Olive College men's basketball team reached in a long, post-game team meeting inside the locker room following an 83-73 loss on Dec. 15 at Conference Carolinas opponent Coker.

The setback dropped the Trojans to an uncharacteristic 1-7 overall and forced them to do some soul searching.

"After that loss at Coker, we kind of sat in the locker room and banged our heads together," Trojans' head coach Joey Higginbotham said. "We talked about being more dedicated to the team and playing for each other. We started over after that game and we've done nothing but focus on being a better teammate since then.

"The guys have bought into it 100 percent."

The Trojans (10-9, 7-6 CC) have flourished in the face of adversity by winning nine of their next 12 games while climbing back into the thick of the conference race. Mount Olive has recorded wins over nationally-ranked opponents Augusta State and Barton.

The cornerstone to the Trojans' turnaround has been on the defensive end. Opponents are averaging 72 points a game in Mount Olive's 10 wins. The Trojans are forcing 18.8 turnovers a game.

"I think that's the main thing to our turnaround is our defensive intensity," Higginbotham said. "Our practices are probably 70 percent defense. We've made a commitment to playing defense and our guys are buying into being a defensive team."

Senior guard Darrell Patterson continues to lead Mount Olive in scoring at 15.8 points per game.

Freshman guard Dontrell Brite has provided the Trojans with a spark recently, and shown versatility with his ability to play point guard or off the ball. Brite contributed 15 points in an 80-75 win over archrival Barton and followed that up with 11 points in a win at North Greenville last Saturday.

"Dontrell has never lacked confidence," Higginbotham said. "He has as much talent as any freshman we've probably ever brought in. The thing about Dontrell is he doesn't pout. He didn't play well in the first half against Barton and he spent most of the half on the bench.

"And then in the second half he sparks us, and he did the same thing at North Greenville. He's growing up in front of our eyes."

Mount Olive has already recorded wins over Barton, Limestone and Belmont Abbey, three of the four teams ahead of the Trojans in the conference standings.

The Trojans' team-first mentality appears to have them peaking at the right time with just seven regular-season games remaining before the conference tournament.

"Right now we believe we can play with anybody," Higginbotham said. "The difference now between early on in the season is we were hoping to play with some teams and now we know we can play with anybody.

"That just comes with the work ethic and the total recommitment after the Coker loss."