When Arkansas-Pine Bluff was mired in a five-game losing streak, coach George Ivory said he wasn’t worried about the defensive play. He was more concerned about the Golden Lions making timely baskets.
Since scoring a season-low 45 points against Alcorn State five games ago, UAPB hasn’t reeled off fewer than 62 in a game. Yet, it’s the defense that’s taken center stage and preserved back-to-back close victories at home.
Junior guards Tevin Hammond and Marcel Mosley led the Lions on both ends of the court the past two games and came through with key stops in each. Hammond, who had a game-high 16 points in last Saturday’s 66-64 win against Grambling State, made two of his five steals in the final 14 seconds. Two nights later, Mosley had seven steals, including one that allowed him to run out the clock, to protect a 70-69 win over Jackson State.
Their all-around efforts just might be cranking up.
“Not knowing whether Davon (Haynes) is going to play or not, me and (Mosley) will have to step up our game a whole lot more,” Hammond said.
Haynes (13.9 points, 7 rebounds per game), the Lions’ leading scorer who’s played with a fractured right hand the past four games, has practiced sparingly the past few days and is questionable for Saturday’s home game against Alabama A&M.
Hammond’s and Mosley’s efforts have catapulted them and UAPB to the top of the SWAC steals-per-game charts this season. Hammond leads the league individually with 2.7, with Mosley second at 2.4. The third-place player, Alcorn State’s Jamel Waters, averages 1.9, and former Arkansas player Julysses Nobles registers 1.4 for Jackson State, good for fifth.
“Guys like Marcel and Tevin, we expect a lot out of those guys as far as defensive presence, and they’ve been doing it,” Ivory said.
UAPB (6-15, 4-5 SWAC), which has 191 total swipes, averages a league-leading 9.1 per game — 1.2 more than second-place Mississippi Valley State.
In the Grambling State game, Hammond picked Remond Brown’s pocket on the left wing and made a fast-break layup — which actually was a goaltend by Brown — to put UAPB ahead by two. Just when the Tigers brought the ball up to the frontcourt again, Hammond made a steal on the other wing and called timeout. Grambling State rebounded a missed Mosley free throw but came up empty on the last-second long-court heave.
Mosley had a strong defensive game from start to finish against Jackson State. He picked off a long-court pass intended for Nobles with 2.7 seconds left and dribbled out the clock.
But it wasn’t the defense Ivory had to stress to Mosley. The Marion product, who averages 11.3 points per game, has scored in double digits each of the last four games.
“I’ve been wanting Marcel to do more and be more active because he has a lot of ability,” Ivory said. “I think he led us in rebounding the other night (six against Jackson State). He’s a guy who’ll get in there and mix it up.”
The Lions are also fourth in turnover margin (plus-0.43), but they’ll need to protect the ball well against their next two opponents, Alabama A&M (plus-0.84) and Alabama State (plus-2.95). Those two teams lead the SWAC in that category.
More importantly, these are key games for positioning in the conference standings.
UAPB, which is in a three-way tie for sixth with Valley and Prairie View, is hosting two teams tied with Texas Southern for third, just one game ahead.
UAPB beat A&M 72-64 in Huntsville on Jan. 13 but blew a big lead at Alabama State and lost 77-64 two nights later. Blown double-digit leads were a common theme in the Lions’ two recent victories.
“That’s the biggest thing we’ve been working on, is executing down the stretch,” Hammond said. “Being able to run the clock, and when the clock gets down, be able to score the ball.”
UAPB has been tops among SWAC teams in home attendance this season. Through four games, an average of 4,397 have poured into H.O. Clemmons Arena, which seems to have a bigger-than-said capacity of 4,500.