Today and Saturday, Arkansas-Pine Bluff will take on men’s basketball teams more on its level in the bracket round of the Corpus Christi (Texas) Challenge.
Like UAPB, Sam Houston State (4-2) of the Southland Conference lost to a pair of big-name teams in the on-campus portion of the Challenge, falling 79-62 to Texas A&M and 72-53 to Southern Methodist. The highest-profile victories for the Bearkats to date are a four-point win at Texas-Pan American and a double-overtime feat at Prairie View A&M.
Today, perennial SWAC contender UAPB (2-4) will look for its first win of the season against Division I talent and try to snap a four-game losing streak when it plays Sam Houston at 3:30 p.m. in Corpus Christi. The winners of this game and Liberty vs. Hampton will meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, while the losers will square off at noon.
Despite the decisive losses, UAPB coach George Ivory said he saw improvement in the past two games.
“Against SMU we were outrebounded, but against Texas A&M we were tied in rebounding,” Ivory said. “This (against Sam Houston) gives us a chance to play with teams we’re matched with in talent.”
There are two four-team brackets in the Corpus Christi Challenge, all games of which will be contested at the American Bank Center. The other bracket begins at 6:30 tonight with Virginia vs. SMU followed by Texas A&M vs. Missouri State, both games airing on CBS Sports Network.
Ivory is looking for a better defensive outing from his team after allowing SMU and Texas A&M to shoot 66.7 and 59.6 percent or better from the floor, respectively. The Lions, as is usually their case against a team from a power conference, hung with both teams in the early going, but the depth of the Mustangs and Aggies pulled both teams’ through and allowed them open up big leads.
“This team has to learn to finish games,” Ivory said. “We just have to learn to play 40 minutes. We’re probably going to cut down our lineup to about nine people so we can get our rotation down.
“I just think it’s an opportunity for this team to learn to play through adversity.”
Aside from Pan American and Prairie View, Sam Houston won its other two games pretty handily against Oklahoma’s Hillsdale Baptist of the Association of Christian College Athletics (116-54) and Texas’ Jarvis Christian of the NAIA (98-48).
Junior college transfers Kaheem Ransom (14.3 points per game) and Jabari Peters (13.5), and sophomore Paul Baxter (10.7) lead the Bearkats in scoring. All three are guards with Baxter running the point.
The Bearkats have found a defensive stalwart in junior post Michael Holyfield, who has 16 blocks and averages 6.5 rebounds a game.
A key one-on-one matchup will take place on the low blocks between Holyfield and UAPB senior Daniel Broughton, who has picked up his scoring with 13 points against SMU and 12 against Texas A&M. Broughton also had 12 rebounds in the latter.
“We had to play smarter basketball with him and Davon Haynes and take it to them a little more,” Ivory said. “Once we get that down pat with what we’re doing and move the ball around, we’ll be OK.”