Owls basketball look to prove No. 4 ranking
Philip Zoppi – Sports Writer
The men’s basketball team is filled with a lot of optimism going into this season. That optimism is due to the fact that many prominent players from a year ago are returning.
However, one player not returning is former Owl Desmond Williams, who was the Northeast-10 Player of the Year and played an integral part of the Owls’ 22-8 record last season.
“You can’t really replace him,” said head coach, Scott Burrell when referring to Williams. “You just got to have a collective group effort that tries to add up to the numbers he put up.”
Williams was the second-best scorer for the Owls, putting up 22.5 points per game. He also averaged 9.9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks.
Luckily for the Owls, their leading scorer is returning in Michael Mallory (23 ppg last season). The senior guard impressed in the Owls’ exhibition game against UConn on Nov. 5, as he finished the game with 14 points, six assists, three rebounds and two blocks.
Even though Southern lost to the Huskies 94-65, Mallory thought there were some positives the team could take out of the game.
“We rebounded the ball well and didn’t turn it over that much, which is always good,” said Mallory. “We still have a lot of things to work on though.”
There is always room for improvement on any team, but opposing coaches in the NE-10 Conference believe that Southern is the favorite to win the Southwest Division for the fourth year in a row.
The Owls are ranked No. 4 nationally among all of Division II. And Coach Burrell still understands that the first main goal is win the division.
“In our conference teams go up and down and put up numbers easy,” said Burrell. “Our side of the conference is going to be really tough this year so we have to be prepared for every game.”
The biggest question for the team is which player is going to put up consistent points behind Mallory. Williams and Mallory both averaged over 20 points last season, but the third leading scorer on the team, Austin Carter, only averaged 9.8 points.
Carter is now a senior, and one of the team captains. He could end up playing a bigger role on offense this year.
As the season progresses, Burrell will be looking to find that player who he can count on to give him points on a consistent basis.
“Last year you knew Des [Williams] and Mike [Mallory] were going to give you 22 and 23 a night,” said Burrell. “This year you know Mike is going to get his numbers, but we have to find out who is going to rise to the occasion and give you those guaranteed points every night.”
One or two of those players who could rise to the occasion, and bump up their scoring are sophomores Joey Wallace and Isaiah McLeod.
Both Wallace and McLeod impressed in their freshmen seasons as McLeod finished fourth in scoring on the team and Wallace finished fifth. Mallory is expecting a lot from both players, as their roles should increase in their second year with the Owls.
“I think they will both improve a lot,” said Mallory. “I know they worked really hard in the offseason. [They] understand their roles and what they bring to the table.”
If Mallory is right about Wallace and McLeod, then Southern could enjoy similar if not better success than they did a season ago.
“I think we have the potential to be better,” said Burrell. “It just depends on how fast we click. We just have to grow faster than we did last year because we were older last year.”
The men’s basketball team will play their first home game against Adelphi University on Nov. 16.
Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications