PAT LONGOBARDI — Sports Writer
In a jumbled Northeast-10 Conference where every game has been crucial for about a month, the Southern men’s basketball team has hung tough.
The Owls came into their final two games of the regular season with a 12-12 overall record and 10-10 in the Northeast-10 Conference.
The Owls won four of the last five— after losing three in a row and seven of nine games—with a 76-69 win over Le Moyne in their final regular season home game.
SCSU head coach Michael Donnelly said that one of the main things the Owls need is a positive attitude and confidence when they are on the court.
“The team chemistry is good,” he said. “The past three weeks we have been very good. I think we have better basketball ahead of us, and we can play better. We need to continue focusing on the defensive end and be confident on the offensive end and not take possessions off. A high level of integrity will help us.
“It starts off on offense with our transition game. We have been inconsistent in the early part of the season and have struggled to execute. We have athleticism to run, but we didn’t execute well. We need to focus on game preparation. We have the top offense in the conference, and we can do as good as anybody in the league, and that will play a major role.”
Freshman guard Tylon Smith has also come into his own during the season and has picked up his game. Smith is averaging 16.5 points and 3.5 rebounds during the past couple of weeks and has earned his starting spot at guard.
Smith said there is always room for improvement with every game being important at this point.
“We are right where we want to be,” he said. “The team is doing great. Our practices are not going as well, but we are winning together. We take it one at a time. Being tied with New Haven makes it even better since they beat us on our home court the last time.”
The Owls are also led by preseason All- American forward Trevon Hamlet, who ranks No. 18 in the NCAA with an average of 2.3 blocks per game and 55 blocks on the season. Hamlet is also averaging 16.9 points per game.
The Owls are in the hunt for not only a tournament berth but possibly even a home game in the first round. Every seed in the conference was up for grabs going into week of the regular season as any team could move their seed up or down.
For the Owls, seeds five through 12 are only separated by a game or two, and the team is very excited about the opportunity during their late-season surge.
Sophomore guard/forward Greg Langston, who leads the team with 17.1 points per game, said the younger players have contributed and been a spark plug to the other guys.
“It was a pretty big win [over Le Moyne] because it kept us in the playoff picture,” he said. “The team chemistry has been getting better and better. We might joke around but we can get serious. The five players give us options. The [freshmen] have been big. We have a big man and we are big at the bottom.”
The conference tournament will begin this weekend. It has become clear that little by little the team is responding with good performances when their backs might be against the wall.
“I told the guys what is most important for the program is that we had nine conference wins last year and now he have 10, which is a step in the right direction,” Donnelly said.