There are many second-half performances Arkansas-Pine Bluff would like to take back this season, but none more important than in last Monday’s game at Alabama State.
“We can’t have lapses like we did the other night against Alabama State,” Golden Lions coach George Ivory said. “We missed a couple of assignments where two or three shots would make the difference in the ballgame.”
Ivory calls it “blind hustle,” a matter of being in the wrong place on the floor. Alabama State took advantage of the breakdowns and handed UAPB its first conference loss of the season, 77-64, after the Lions led by 12 points late in the first half.
The Lions have been correcting their blind hustle in preparation for Saturday’s home opener against Southern (8-9, 4-0 SWAC), the only remaining undefeated team in conference play.
“The first game, we’ve got to have energy,” UAPB forward Davon Haynes said. “We’re going to be excited, but we can’t be too excited because we’ve got to take care of business.”
The Lions (4-11, 2-1) don’t want to be too lax either, which Haynes thinks they tend to be when they take leads of 10 or more points. UAPB was ahead of Alabama State 30-18 with 5:48 left in the first half and had a 36-30 lead at halftime.
They’ll be lucky to have a big lead on a Jaguars team that’s defending the SWAC championship and has won five straight. They made national headlines on Dec. 30 during their 116-12 victory over Hot Springs’ Champion Baptist, which started the winning streak. The Jaguars jumped to a 44-0 lead, setting an NCAA record for the largest opening lead ever.
A big reason for Southern’s success is Calvin Godfrey, a 6-foot-9 junior forward who’s the two-time reigning SWAC Player of the Week. Despite averaging only 12.9 points per game, Godfrey has led the Jaguars in scoring in three of the past four games and registered a double-double in the past three. His season high is 27 points in a three-point victory at Prairie View A&M to start conference play.
“He’s an exceptionally good big man who can use either his left or right hand,” Ivory said. “He left Iowa State, so he’s a kid who can play, who makes them go now.”
Godfrey was reportedly dismissed from Iowa State after the 2010-11 season for a series of team rules violations including marijuana possession. After spending the next season at a junior college, he inked a letter of intent at Southern’s next-door neighbor LSU, but he reportedly was not allowed to enroll there due to academic problems.
But he’s making good on his latest Division I opportunity, leading the SWAC in field-goal percentage (58.4 percent) and standing second in rebounds (8.9 per game).
Godfrey’s play and Southern’s quick start to conference play add luster to the Lions’ much-awaited home opener. So does the rivalry between the two teams that has developed.
Southern destroyed UAPB 84-50 this time last year to end the Lions’ 3-0 conference start. But the Lions avenged that bad defeat with a 55-52 home win the following month, handing the Jaguars one of their three SWAC losses and eventually tying them for second in standings. Southern bounced back to win the tournament and give Gonzaga a hard time before eventually losing in the NCAA tournament round of 64.
“It’s getting to be a big rivalry,” Ivory said. “Anytime you’re in the top three like we were last year, I think this is a pretty big game for us. It’s a very big ballgame, and that’s the kind of games these guys look for.”
For the Lions, there’s nothing like the chance to beat the defending champions on their home floor. They just don’t want another breakdown Saturday in their first home game.
“We prepare for all our games the same way, but we don’t want to disappoint the crowd,” Haynes said.
Bomb threat forces change of plans
Southern will have to wait a little longer to complete its Delta swing following Saturday’s UAPB game.
This past Wednesday, Mississippi Valley State officials reported a bomb threat that was issued for Friday through Monday on campus in Itta Bena and at the Leflore County Civic Center in nearby Greenwood. Classes were cancelled for Thursday evening and the campus is closed until noon Monday.
As a result, Valley and Southern agreed to move their men’s and women’s basketball games from Monday to Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the Leflore County Civic Center. Valley’s games against Alcorn State, scheduled for Saturday, have been moved from Greenwood to Lorman.