George Ivory could do without his team blowing big leads. But for the past four games, it hasn’t resulted in a loss.
If UAPB is lucky enough to build such an advantage on SWAC leader Southern, the Golden Lions will need to protect it.
“Once we get those leads, we get too comfortable and we’re not paying attention to detail,” Ivory said. “We’re giving up shots we weren’t giving up in the first half.”
The Lions (8-15, 6-5 SWAC) have plenty to play for today when they visit Southern (14-10, 10-1), but they don’t have much room for error. One more loss, and they’ll be guaranteed a losing overall record.
They can, however, build on their largest winning streak of the season — four games — by stunning the Jaguars, who won at UAPB 60-56 last month. They also can remain within the top three of conference standings, currently owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over Alabama A&M.
UAPB had lost five straight before going undefeated in a four-game homestand. But in each of those four, the Lions blew a double-digit lead and won by no more than five points.
The collapses have been a major concern for Ivory and a point of emphasis in recent practices.
“We worked with 5-minute segments and put up a lead of 15 points for one team, showing them how to work with a big lead and take good shots,” Ivory said. “And then we’ve worked on 3-minute situations with that big lead.”
Two weeks ago, the Lions led Grambling State by 14 with 16:23 remaining and needed clutch plays from Tevin Hammond to take a 66-64 win. They were up by 20 on Jackson State with 2:03 left before halftime but won 70-69 behind Marcel Mosley’s seven steals.
The next weekend, UAPB held a 12-point lead midway through the first half against Alabama A&M and won 64-61. The Lions then woke up from a slow start against Alabama State to lead by 17 late in the first half — and win 76-71.
Even with injuries to key players in starting forward Davon Haynes (fractured right hand) and reserve guard DeAndre McIntyre (ACL tear), Ivory has found more depth on his bench. UAPB’s reserves have scored no fewer than 14 points combined during the homestand, after being shutout in a 72-71 loss to Texas Southern.
The bench, with center Sean Tingle and forward Trent Whiting leading the way, has emerged at a much-needed time. Haynes, UAPB’s second-leading scorer on the season, hasn’t scored more than five points in each of his past three games, but he had games of 16, 11 and 10 points in the three prior games with his hand fracture.
“Just seeing what they could do for the team” has given the reserves a lift, Ivory said. “I think their working hard in practice led to game-time situations.”
Despite playing through injury, Haynes practiced for the first time in two weeks and is expected to start today at Southern.
Against a Southern team that’s won five straight and 11 of the last 12, getting out to a big lead will be of utmost importance. Ivory likes his team’s chances on defense against the Jaguars, who have scored 68 points or fewer in seven of the past eight games. (Southern beat last-place Grambling State 104-54 on Feb. 8.)
But Southern packs a good defense as well, allowing a SWAC-best 62.4 points per game.