The Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s men’s basketball team’s season-opening stay at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu was part-confidence builder, part-disappointment, coach George Ivory said.
“It was little bit of both,” he said Tuesday. ”You go into one game and you lose by four points, and you go to the line and you miss the front end of 1-and-1. That just shows you could win the game.
“But the win, that motivated us a lot. I thought (my team) came back in practice with great motivation, a great attitude.”
The Golden Lions are hoping to build off that 62-52 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore in Hawaii, but it’s been nine days since they’ve played a game. The positive attitude they’ve taken to practice during that time is much needed for one of their biggest games of the season, which is tonight at San Diego State.
The Aztecs (2-1) are ranked 25th in the USA Today Men’s Coaches Poll and are in their 14th season under coach Steve Fisher, better known as the leader of the 1989 NCAA championship and 1990s Fab Five teams at Michigan. San Diego State also is the first ranked team UAPB will face this season.
UAPB (1-2) started the campaign dropping a 72-68 decision to Houston Baptist, missing 13 of 25 free throws in that game. The Lions improved slightly at the line in their next game against Hawaii, but shot only 26.2 percent from the field in an 81-54 loss to Hawaii.
“It’s a lot of improvement to go,” Ivory said. “Guys are playing together for the first time.”
The Lions have played with some new faces in the starting lineup and a familiar face away from the team. Senior center Terrell Kennedy leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game in his return from a medical redshirt year, and he’s getting scoring help from a first-year Lion in redshirt junior forward Davon Haynes (12.3) and senior guard Lazabian Jackson (14.3).
Sophomore guard Tevin Hammond, the other first-year Lion who’s starting, averages 9.7, but he and Jackson also are making their marks on defense with two steals per contest apiece.
“Ever since we’ve first seen him, we thought Davon was going to be an exciting basketball player,” Ivory said. “He has a great presence around the goal.
“Tevin has done an excellent job at the point. He just has to keep improving. He’s one of the best defenders we’ve seen in a long time.”
The Lions will continue to play without junior center Daniel Broughton for at least the next two games. Broughton sat out the Hawaii trip recovering from surgery to clean up his injured knee, and Ivory said he’s keeping the Watson Chapel product out of this game and Saturday’s contest at Washington State so he can work on his conditioning.
San Diego State has won its last two games in dominating fashion (91-57 over San Diego Christian and 60-44 at Missouri State) since opening with a 62-49 loss to Syracuse aboard the USS Midway in San Diego. The Aztecs are led by James Franklin, a 6-foot-5 junior guard who averages 20.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and Chase Tapley, a 6-3 senior guard who pours in 10.7 points a game.
Ivory said he will start the game calling on Jackson to defend against Franklin.
“One thing about it, we can’t give up easy points off turnovers, fast breaks,” Ivory said. “We did a great job of that against Houston Baptist, but we didn’t do a good job of that against Hawaii.”
There’s also the matter of shooting free throws better. UAPB has struggled from the line, converting only 37 of 64 this season.
“I just think it’s being tired, a lack of concentration,” Ivory said. “It’s a matter of getting more balanced, getting our feet in the proper stance at free-throw line.”
UAPB (1-2) at San Diego State (2-1)
• When: 9:30 p.m. Central today
• Where: Viejas Arena, San Diego
• Rankings: San Diego State No. 25 in coaches’ poll
• Last meeting: San Diego State 93, UAPB 61, at San Diego, on Dec. 29, 2008