Men's Basketball Looks to Build on Momentum from Record-Breaking SeasonOctober 20, 2011
ANDERSON, S.C. – The Anderson University men’s basketball team will look to build on the momentum from back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including a trip to last season’s Elite Eight, after a successful debut in the South Atlantic Conference.
Last season saw Anderson become just the second team in South Atlantic Conference history to claim an NCAA Regional Championship and the first team from the state of South Carolina to win a regional championship since Lander in 1999.
The Trojans lost two career 1,000-point scorers, but return eight players, including two starters and two reserves that averaged nearly 22 minutes per contest in 2010-11.
“We had some big losses player-wise from last season,” said Anderson head coach Jason Taylor. “We will not be the same team, but then you never coach the same team two years in a row.
We want to get better each day,” Taylor added. “I’m not very big on setting goals for the end of the year. Our goal is to get better today and make sure we’re better tomorrow than we were today.”
Junior Denzail Jones, the team’s leading scorer, saw action in 32 games and averaged 12.5 points per game for a team that featured a balanced offensive attack with five players averaging double figures. Jones poured in a season-high 28 points at Mars Hill on the strength of 17-of-18 shooting from the free throw line and was 8-of-16 from the field in the home win past Lincoln Memorial in mid-February. The native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., also displayed his unselfish side, leading AU in assists 12 times, while ranking 10th in the SAC in assists per game.
“Denzail has shown that he can play either point guard or off-guard and he can spearhead our defense for us as well,” noted Taylor. “He has a lot of potential to be an impact player for us.”
Joining Jones in the backcourt will be senior Nick Trull, who averaged nearly 22 minutes of action off the bench last season. The hard-nosed guard played in all 33 games and became just the sixth player in school history to reach the 1,000-point plateau in the win at Carson-Newman. He was named the SAC Scholar-Athlete and received the NCAA’s Elite 88 Award at the Elite Eight.
“Nick can be as good as any guard in our league,” said Taylor. “He’s that talented.”
The other returning starter is 6-foot-7 center Taylor Shugart, who led the South Atlantic Conference in field-goal accuracy last season, shooting 64.7% from the field, while also setting the school’s single-season mark for field-goal accuracy. The senior provides a consistent inside presence for Coach Jason Taylor’s Trojan squad after leading the team in rebounding and blocked shots.
“Taylor really gave us a post threat and I think he was the difference in us winning the Southeast Region last year,” added Taylor. “When you look at it offensively, his presence in the post was the difference for us by the end of the year. He is able to give us a double-double presence every game in the post.”
Back after being sidelined with a season-ending injury in the preseason a year ago, is senior forward Stephen Cobb. He played in 27 games, while starting 22 during the 2011 campaign and displayed his versatility by leading the team in 3-point field goal accuracy. The Smithfield, N.C., native reached double-figures nine times and pulled down 10 twice during the season.
Adding depth in the post will be 6-foot-6 forward Kyle Sledge, who saw action in nine contests a year ago. The slender sophomore averaged three points and 2.4 rebounds, while averaging more than 10 minutes a game coming off the bench. Sledge scored a season-high eight points at South Carolina State. Another sophomore post player, Chris Ross is back for his second campaign in the black and gold. Ross played in 12 games during his freshman season, while averaging six minutes a contest.
“Kyle can play either the four or five spot for us and is very versatile,” said Taylor. “And Chris gave us some very valuable minutes down the stretch last season. They both have the opportunity to be impact players for us. “
In his first season with the Trojans, Tyrell McDowell, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward, averaged six points and more than three rebounds a game while seeing action in every game. McDowell played both inside and outside during AU’s record-setting run, including a three-game streak in late January when he averaged nearly 12 points per game. Taylor will also be looking for redshirt freshman DJ McGowan to contribute in the backcourt after averaging 14 points, six rebounds and two assists as a senior for his father, Dondi McGowan, at Greenville High School. McGowan is the brother of former Trojan standout Donielle Davis, who stands sixth all-time on Anderson’s scoring list.
“Tyrell is a three/four swing guy for us and is a very talented defender. He can make shots in the post or the perimeter.”
Six newcomers, including a trio of transfers, will bolster the Trojans backcourt in 2011-12. CJ Gleaton averaged more than eight points and four rebounds in two seasons at Spartanburg Methodist, while Chandler Hash averaged nearly three points per game as a freshman at USC Upstate last season. The 6-foot-1 guard scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in his first career start against Auburn and posted a career-high 12 points at N.C. State.
“CJ is another extremely versatile player on our team,” added Taylor He has great passing ability and has shown the ability to play several spots. DJ had a great summer and I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
Jo’el Lamb played three seasons at Charleston Southern, tying for fourth on the team with 10 blocks as a sophomore for the Bucs and scored a season-high eight points versus High Point. He ranked10th in the Big South Conference with 28 rejections as a sophomore. Newcomer Myles Daniel helped lead Wade Hampton High School to its first-ever undefeated season and a AAA state championship as the starting point guard last year, while averaging 10 points and six assists a game.
“Stephen and Jo’el are both similar, but they also bring something a little different to the table. Stephen is a phenomenal shooter and Jo’el is another terrific defender.”
Another true freshman, Alani Adekambi, averaged 11.7 points and more than seven rebounds as a senior, helping lead Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School to a 29-4 overall record and an appearance in the state tournament semifinals. Myson Jones averaged 12.1 points and over five assists per game while serving as team captain at Aiken High School last season. The Fighting Green Hornets went 24-3 and earned an appearance in the state Class 5AAAA playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
“Alani is going to be a very good basketball player for us. He has nice strength and athleticism and can really shoot the basketball.
I’m really excited about our newcomers,” said Taylor. “Chandler brings a shooting presence to the floor and can also handle the ball and makes good decisions, while Myson goes all-out and guards the full 94 feet. Myles is always in control and makes good decisions. I’m excited about our backcourt for the next four years.
We have good quality depth and experience and a blend of youth and experience.”
An appearance in the Conference Carolinas/South Atlantic Conference Challenge, non-conference contests at Georgia College, Erskine and North Georgia and a grueling league slate highlights the 2011-12 schedule.
Taylor’s sixth season at the helm of the Anderson program will be at least as challenging as his first five, with a blend of familiar opponents and old foes that comprise the schedule, including 12 home contests, 12 road games and two at a neutral site.
“We have a very good and a very challenging schedule.” Taylor noted. “The the league schedule will be one of the most balanced that I can remember. Every game is going to be a battle.”
AU opens the 2011-12 campaign with four consecutive contests versus teams from the Conference Carolinas and for the second straight year Anderson will open the season in Greeneville, Tenn., on Nov. 11-12, by participating in the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge.
The Trojans will meet two teams from their former conference for the first time since the 2010 campaign, with Barton and Mt. Olive representing Conference Carolinas. Barton was a “bubble” team last season after posting an 18-10 record and did not receive an at-large bid, but will be looking for its second appearance in the ‘Big Dance’ since winning the NCAA Division II National Championship in 2007. The Bulldogs are perennial contenders for NCAA appearances, having participated in the NCAA Tournament on five occasions (1997, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009). Mount Olive, another regional foe, ended its 2010-11 campaign with an uncharacteristic 14-13 record.
“We get tested early and we’ll find out where we are right off the bat. It will be another big-time test for our program. I think both teams will be vying for a tournament berth at the end of the season.”
AU opens its home slate on Wednesday, Nov. 16, with a two-game homestand, beginning with rival Erskine invading the Abney Athletic Center. The Flying Fleet will be looking to rebound from a disappointing season at 3-23 overall and 1-17 in conference last year, while the Trojans are looking to claim their ninth win in the last 12 meetings between the rivals.
Anderson plays host to North Greenville three days later. The Crusaders are another team AU not faced since the 2009-10 campaign, and NGU will be coming in on a roll after finishing the 2010-11 season with the best record in school history at 22-7 after falling to Southeastern University in the NCCAA Regional Championship.
“I am very excited about getting North Greenville back on the schedule. They will have a very balanced team and will be good.”
The Trojans go on the road to face Georgia College, a traditional Peach Belt Conference powerhouse that wrapped up last season with a 16-10 record and was listed at No. 10 in the NCAA Southeast Region Rankings. Anderson opens its South Atlantic Conference on the road at Brevard on Nov. 30, then returns home to face Mars Hill on Dec. 7.
AU travels to Due West four days later for as rematch with Erskine and returns home to host Johnson & Wales before taking a 19-day layoff for final exams and a Christmas break.
The Trojans resume action with a four-game road swing, starting with a New Year’s Eve contest at North Georgia, which posted a sub-par 10-16 record last season, but two of the team's top three scorers from last season return this fall, including Elijah Smith and Clarence Tillman, who averaged 11.6 and 13.3 points per game respectively. Chaun Tinney is set for his senior season after averaging 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds, while starting 19 games in his junior year.
Anderson opens the New Year on Jan. 4 by resuming conference action on the road with four consecutive contests, starting at Lenoir-Rhyne. The Trojans follow up by traveling to Catawba on Jan. 7. The Trojans and Indians met on three occasions last season, with Catawba claiming two narrow wins.
After visiting Newberry on Jan. 11, The Trojans welcome Lincoln Memorial to the Abney Center for a Saturday afternoon matchup. The Railsplitters claimed the conference regular-season championship en route to posting a stellar 27-3 record last season. Two of the setbacks came at the hands of the Trojans, once in the regular season and in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
AU plays host to Tusculum on Jan. 18, visits Carson-Newman three days later and closes out the first half of the double round-robin conference schedule at Wingate. The Bulldogs notched a 19-10 record a year ago after finishing second in the regular season and falling to LMU in the SAC Tournament finals.
“Our level of fan support has grown tremendously and means a lot to our program.” added Taylor. “We really have a home court advantage now and it’s due to our support from the students and the community. The excitement that the crowd brings is daunting to an opponent and really means the difference in wins and losses.”