Hornets Ready for Tests

Date Published: January 27, 2009
Reprinted by permission from The Item

By TREVOR ZION BAUKNIGHT
Item Sports Writer
TBauknight@theitem.com

This is a big week for the Morris College men's basketball team.

The Hornets, who stand at 7-6 on the season, travel to face NCAA Division I opponent Charleston Southern University today before returning home Thursday for a meeting with one of the top teams in NAIA Division I, Mountain State University.

Morris broke above the .500 mark for the first time this season on Saturday with their fourth-straght win, a 69-66 victory over Voorhees College at Morris' Garrick-Boykin Human Development Center.

"All of our weeks are big when we play, but with Division I Charleston Southern, it means more to us than the others did," said Morris head coach Clarence Houck. "All the games mean a lot to us, but we're preparing a little harder for these because it's a Division I team and Mountain State being ranked No. 3 in the nation in NAIA. We're working harder, but we'll prepare for them just like we prepare for any of the other games.

"It would mean a lot to us," Houck added. "All the wins mean a lot to us, but winning this one would be one above the others, so we'd love to win it."

Charleston Southern enters tonight's contest at 5-13 having lost its last 10 games going back to a 101-49 win over Covenant College. The young Buccaneers are led by sophomore guard Jamarco Warren, who is averaging 20.1 points per game and four 3-pointers a game. He is third in the Big South Conference in total scoring, and second in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage.

A pair of freshmen also figure heavily into the Bucs' gameplan. Omar Carter is second on the team in scoring, with 11.9 points per game. He's grabbing 7.1 rebounds, as well, second on the team to freshman forward Kelvin Martin, who is averaging 7.7 boards.

Morris will counter with a veteran backcourt, led by senior point guard Christopher Owens, who said the team has come together since the holiday break after the players renewed their focus on playing as a team, as opposed to playing as individuals.

"Last year, we had a lot of individuals, but we've come a long, long way," said Owens, who leads the team in scoring with 20.00 points per game and is first in the NAIA in 3-point field goals with 4.08 per game. "That's kind of how this season started, as well, and we realized that that's not going to work out this year.

"Over the break, we all called each other and talked about what we needed to do when we got back. Everybody took it in, took it to heart."

Owens shoots 41 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point land, and is the team's assists leader, as well, with 3.38 per game. One of his favorite go-to guys is senior guard Nathaniel Thomas, who leads the team with 7.31 rebounds per game, along with 15.54 points. Senior guard Justin Beaufort averages 10.77 points per game.

The Hornets will also benefit from solid play in the post. Junior forward Randall James leads NAIA Division I with 4.48 blocked shots per game to go with his 11 points, and the Hornets as a team are second in the nation in that category with 7.46 per game.

Mountain State, ranked No. 3 among NAIA Division I teams, is 16-2 on the season. The Cougars defeated Morris 105-48 earlier this season.

Like last year, however, Houck is counting on showing the Cougars a different look the second time around. MSU defeated Morris 101-69 at home last season, but had to hold on for dear life to gain an 88-81 victory at Morris.

"We're playing well now, and the way the guys have gelled together, they're playing more as a team now and know their respective roles as team players," Houck said. "We showed them a different look when they came here (last season), and we're going to do the same thing this time. Last year was our first time playing them, and they caught us off-guard a little bit. We're looking to return the favor."