Looking for a better start: Lions close nonconference slate Monday

If George Ivory and Arkansas-Pine Bluff athletic department can make it happen, this will be the last time the Golden Lions have to deal with a nonconference schedule entirely away from home.

Like the previous five under Ivory, this season’s slate has been none too nice to the Lions. And they won’t have a chance to play at home for three more weeks.

“We’re trying to see how we can have more games at home and still play some of the tougher schools,” Ivory said. “That’s what a lot of the mid-major schools are doing; they’re agreeing to home-and-away games with other teams.”

Despite starting 2-0, UAPB (2-9) has not defeated a Division I opponent yet and lost three games by 30 or more points. Twice has bad weather affected the Lions’ travel, and it may have showed in their last outing a week ago at Iowa, when the Hawkeyes jumped to a 39-5 lead en route to an 85-61 win.

“I hope not, but one thing about it was, we came out flat,” Ivory said. “We didn’t get a chance to shoot around. We didn’t get there until 4 (a.m.), and the game was at 1 (p.m.).”

According to Ivory, a booking snafu by a traveling agency sent UAPB back to Omaha, Neb., where it played its previous game against Creighton, to catch its connector flight to Iowa. Slick road conditions prevented the Lions from reaching their Iowa City hotel much earlier.

Monday night, they won’t have the weather to blame if they don’t have a good showing at Auburn (6-3) to close the nonconference slate. Clouds are expected to hover the Plains on Sunday and Monday with a minimal chance of rain.

For UAPB, it’s a chance to end a frustrating first part of the season by carrying some momentum into conference play, which begins next Saturday at Mississippi Valley State. Ivory knows what he needs to see from his team against coach Tony Barbee’s Tigers.

“Execution and coming out, being a lot more focused on protecting the basketball and not turning it over, working together as a team,” Ivory said.

Ivory won’t have starting center Daniel Broughton for a second straight game. Broughton, who averages 7.3 points per game, has played with a knee that hasn’t fully recovered from surgery.

“Sometimes when he gets tired, he drags that leg,” Ivory said. “I’d rather have a fresh Broughton than a half-Broughton.”

Broughton’s absence leaves a thin frontcourt for a team that ranks 340th out of 345 Division I teams in scoring at 60.5 points per game. UAPB is shooting only 39.3 percent from the floor while allowing opponents to hit 50.9 percent.

“You look at the competition we’re playing compared to what other teams are playing, and it’s a mixture of things,” Ivory said. “A lot of times when you play top-quality competition that has something to do with that, and then it’s concentration. We miss some easy baskets that we shouldn’t be missing.”

Junior guard Tevin Hammond (12.8 ppg) has emerged as the Lions’ scoring leader on the season after scoring 22 against Creighton and 19 against Iowa. Senior forward Davon Haynes (12.5) and junior guard Marcel Mosley (10.0), along with Hammond, account for more than half of UAPB’s scoring.

Like UAPB, Auburn has not played since last Sunday. The Tigers, who are 6-1 at home, are on a two-game winning streak, coming off wins against Clemson and Boston College.

Guards Chris Denson (19.2) and K.T. Harrell (19.1) lead the Tigers in scoring. Denson, a senior, is shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and averages 5.4 rebounds per game. Harrell, a junior, redshirted last season after transferring from Virginia.

Finding the Tigers’ shooters will be key for the Lions, Ivory said.

“We have to recognize where they are at all times,” he said. “Don’t go out and give up a lot of fast-break points.”