Balance has kept Owls undefeated

McGEHEE — Head coach Jerome Pace can’t remember the last time the boys basketball team at McGehee started a season 10-0, but he did say “it’s been a while.”

Any team expecting the Owls to suffer after losing two-time All-Southeast Arkansas Player of the Year Zach Ellis to graduation has been sorely mistaken.

As a senior, Ellis averaged 20 points, 7.5 assists, seven rebounds and two steals per game leading McGehee to the state semifinals for the second time in three years, but even he couldn’t help the Owls to a 10-0 start.

Pace thinks the difference this year is a deeper, more balanced team.

“Guys are contributing on both sides of the ball,” Pace said. “… We’ve got a lot more balance this year.”

Leading the attack is senior Tracy Lawson, whom Pace said is averaging around 20 points per game.

“He’s contributing well,” Pace said. “He’s had to score more this year.

“He’s also had to take on more responsibility.”

Lawson helped maintain McGehee’s perfect start with a game-winning shot with about 30 seconds left to beat Drew Central, 72-70 in overtime, on Tuesday.

“He’s a good kid,” Pace said of Lawson. “He’s a well-mannered kid, plays hard on defense (and) is a good student in the classroom.”

Lawson may lead the way, but Pace estimates that he has three other players — Trevon Spratt (15), Ryan Berry (12) and Evander Bailey (10) — also averaging double-digit points.

Pace said he’s been impressed with the way Kendall Handley has stepped up during McGehee’s 3-0 start to 8-3A Conference play. According to Pace, Handley is averaging around 10 points in narrow wins over Fordyce, Smackover and Drew Central.

Orchestrating the offense is Keanisas Harris, whom Pace called a “true point guard.”

The Owls’ play on defense, especially from his bench players, has really impressed Pace this season.

“We need to be working more on our man-to-man defense,” Pace said. “We need to keep our (bench players) contributing, especially on defense because that’s where a lot of them make their impact.

“They know if they want to play, they’ve got to bring it on the defensive end of the floor.”

If the Owls are going to run the table, Pace knows he’s going to need the defensive intensity to stay at a high level.

“This conference is really tough,” he said. “It’s a battle every Tuesday and Friday night.

“We’ve won it (three years) in a row, so everybody wants to get you.”

The next team taking aim at McGehee will be Camden Harmony Grove when the Owls travel there on Jan. 28.

After the trip to Camden, the Owls’ only other road game will be a rematch with Drew Central in Monticello on Feb. 7.

“We always say, ‘Let’s get the ones on the road and defend our home court,’” Pace said. “… Our guys believe they should win at home.

“We’ve got a great fanbase and faithful followers.”