ANDERSON, S.C. – With the top three scorers among seven returning letterwinners from last season, the Anderson men's basketball team is looking to build on last year's late-season momentum when the Trojans won three of their final four regular-season contests.
When the Black and Gold tips off the 2018-19 campaign, Friday at Southern Wesleyan's Tip-off Classic, the Trojans will be seeking a third straight postseason appearance. Fourth-year Head Coach Jeff Brookman will be looking to blend a talented roster that features three returning starters from last year's squad that went 10-19 overall and 8-12 in the league, along with eight newcomers.
"We have a good group of returners that have been through it and know what it takes to compete in the South Atlantic Conference," said Brookman. "What we have to do is win games on a regular basis. I like our returning group and at the same time I'm excited about some of the young guys that are showing improvement from day to day and getting better every day."
AU was tabbed eighth in the South Atlantic Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll earlier this week and Brookman will look for an experienced, proven group of upperclassmen to help lead the squad to better-than-predicted success this season.
"We have good speed on and athleticism on the perimeter," Brookman noted. "I'm hoping we will shoot a little better than last year and that will be one of our strengths. We are looking to play a little faster, commit to get really out there and run. We want to play a little more up-tempo and shoot more 3-pointers than in the past."
Senior guard Gage Ellis, who captured Honorable Mention All-South Atlantic Conference honors at the conclusion of last season, earned Preseason First-Team All-Conference accolades earlier this week. In his first season with the Black and Gold a year ago, he led the Trojans and was 10th in the conference with 14.9 points per game. The Greenville, S.C., native reached double-figure scoring in 25 contests, while pouring in a season-high 34 points at Lees-McRae in early December.
"Gage had a great year last year," noted Brookman. "He came back hungry and ready to go and I think he will show some improvement as well."
Classmate Randall Shaw, a proven scorer who earned all-conference recognition following each of his first two seasons wearing the Black and Gold, is back for his senior campaign and needs just 27 points to claim sixth place in the school record books after scoring 1,288 points in his first three seasons.
"Randall can put the ball in the basket and score in a number of different ways," added Brookman. "I think he can stay steady and have another solid year."
Shawn Benard is back this season after seeing action in 56 games during his first two campaigns with the Black and Gold. The native of Mobile, Ala., averaged nine points and nearly three assists during his sophomore season, while ranking 10th in the SAC in assists. He reached double-figure scoring 10 times during the 2016-17 season and poured in a career-high 25 points three times.
"Shawn can play a big part [on this team]," added Brookman, "He's going to play a big part in what we are trying to do on both ends of the floor. He just brings so much to the floor both offensively and defensively. He makes everyone around him better but at the same time he can also score. Shawn can really defend and he is super quick and athletic."
Andrew Boynton returns for his senior campaign after seeing action in 74 games during his previous three seasons wearing the Black and Gold. The 6-foot-1 guard earned a starting nod in a dozen games a season ago and led the team in free throw accuracy, while reached double-figure scoring in seven games. The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native posted a season-high 15 points in both games against Newberry.
"Andrew had a great summer and he's ready to have a break-out year," noted Brookman. "Andrew can really shoot it and he gets after it."
Brookman will look for a bevy of talented newcomers, alongside returners to provide quality depth on the hardwood.
Sophomore Jordan Jeffries played in 21 contests last season, with classmate John Stoffregen seeing action in six games.
Senior Kevin Simpson, a 5-foot-9 transfer from Davis and Elkins is expected to battle for playing time in the backcourt. The native of Ft. Washington, Md., is a prolific long-range shooter. He averaged 11 points, three assists and two steals last season for the Senators and posted a career-high 34 points against Alderson Broaddus, while setting a school record for 3-pointers in a game.
Another newcomer with collegiate experience, junior Alex Keel, is a 6-foot-2 guard who averaged 22.5 points as a senior at Hagerty High School and followed up by averaging 4.3 points per contest at Union University. A native of Oviedo, Fla., Keel poured in career-high 16 points against Valdosta State.
A 6-foot-1 guard from Richmond, Va., freshman Rahim Jenkins averaged 15 points per game as a senior last year, while fellow freshman Foster Bridges, a 6-foot-4 guard out of Inman, S.C., was named Region Player of the Year last year at Landrum High School and finished his prep career with 1,680 career points. Another local product, freshman Mason Brown played his prep basketball at Anderson Christian. He was a four-year lewtterwinner for the Lions and averaged 10 points and seven assists as a senior. Brown captured All-State accolades three times and was named Co-Region Player of the Year as a senior, while finishing his career as AC's all-time assist leader.
After a breakout season last year, senior forward Jeremy Bouton has bookended his stellar career with All-SAC accolades after being named Second-Team All-Conference. He was third on the team and 23rd in the SAC with more than 13 points per game, while posting double-figure scoring in 23 games and reaching the 20+ point plateau in four games. Bouton was also ninth in the league with more than six rebounds per contest and collected at least 10 rebounds in three games, including a career-high 14 boards at Newberry. The Orlando, Fla., native earned SAC All-Freshman Team honors at the conclusion of the 2015-16 campaign.
"Jeremy has improved every year," added Brookman. "I'm expecting big things from him this year. I think he can even take another jump at the four spot."
Sophomore Josh Livingston is looking to build on a solid rookie season that saw the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native average more than six points and four boards per game. He reached double-figure scoring in six contests, including a double-double with 13 points and a season-high 11 rebounds against Mars Hill.
Jason Edwards, a 6-foot-10 post player from Sydney, Australia, will get be back on the hardwood after redshirting last year. He averaged 26 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and eight blocks per contest as a senior and also competed in baseball during his prep career.
"It can be difficult to stay in shape the whole year when you redshirt," said Brookman. "But Jason did a good job of staying focused everyday even though he knew he was redshirting. He's a big guy and will help give us a presence around the basket. Jason is a great young man. I really enjoy working with him. He's a hard worker wants to get better. Last year really helped him develop. He's still a freshman eligibility-wise, so he's still young and will help us when we need an inside presence.
Satchel Hester is a 6-foot-7 forward from Lexington, N.C. who earned all-conference accolades twice during his prep career and averaged 18.4 points and more than eight rebounds last season for North Davidson High School. Matthew Brown, a 6-foot-6 forward from Union, S.C., also competed in cross country and Kristian Longenecker is a 6-foot-9 post player from Oldsmar Fla.
"We will need two or three of those guys ready to play," concluded Brookman. "They have gotten better and we have seen a lot of improvement. But they'll need to be ready to step in and play some minutes."
While the 28-game regular-season slate is nearly evenly balanced, Brookman's squad will open on the road for the eighth time in 11 seasons.
After opening with three games on the road, including two contests in this weekend's Southern Wesleyan Tip-off Classic, AU plays eight of its next nine contests in the Electric City, with a three-game homestand and a five-game homestand highlighting the home slate in November and December.
"These are always fun - you get to see some of the competition from around the region and it's a good way to start the season with back-to-back games," said Brookman. "This will show us a little bit of where our team is at and what our team is about. We play on Friday night and turn around and play another game the next day, but it will give us a good idea of where we are at, and where we are headed."
AU will open this season with the same teams as a year ago – against Lander from the Peach Belt Conference and the host Warriors from the Conference Carolinas. Carson-Newman will again join the Trojans as representatives from the SAC.
Up next for the Trojans is a visit to Gaffney, S.C., and a matchup with Limestone on Nov. 14, then the Trojans open their home slate three days later versus longtime rival Erskine, with AU looking for its seventh victory in 11 matchups with the Flying Fleet. The Black and Gold remains in the Electric City for the remainder of a three-game stretch, with the Trojans opening the Thanksgiving Holiday by squaring off against North Greenville for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
Following a week-long break, AU opens its South Atlantic Conference schedule by facing Tusculum and first-year head coach J.T. Burton in the Abney Center on Nov. 28. After wrapping up the homestand, the Trojans face the unenviable challenge of facing a pair of teams that were each ranked No. 1 in the nation for part of last season in two of their next three contests.
AU travels to Charlotte on Dec. 1 for a matchup with defending NCAA Southeast Region Champion Queens. The Royals will be looking to replace four starters from their record-setting 32-4 season a year ago and making their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament Semifinals, while winning 20+ games for the third consecutive year. Anderson then opens a five-game homestand by playing host to Johnson C. Smith for the first time in school history on Nov. 26.
Three days later, defending SAC Tournament Champion Lincoln Memorial invades the Abney Center. The Railplitters finished 32-2 last season and fell just short in their bid for a third straight NCAA Southeast Region title when they dropped a decision to Queens in the tournament title matchup. The Railsplitters have either won or shared the regular season conference title for the last six seasons and seven of the last eight – the Trojans were the last team other than LMU to claim outright sole possession of the league's championship – in 2012.
The Trojans play host to Lenoir-Rhyne (Dec. 15), Southern Wesleyan (Dec. 19) and following a 10-day break for Christmas, AU continues an old Conference Carolinas rivalry and closes out its nonconference slate by playing host to Lees-McRae on Dec. 30. The Bobcats are yet another foe that is coming off a record-breaking season, as the Bobcats won a school-record 23 games on its way to its first Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship and its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
AU begins the New Year with its longest road swing of the season by traveling to Wingate (Jan. 2), Coker (Jan. 5) and Carson-Newman (Jan. 9), before concluding the road swing at Newberry on Jan. 12. AU will then have a six-day layoff before wrapping up the first half of its double-round robin conference schedule with a two-game homestand. Catawba visits the Electric City, Jan. 19, before AU welcomes Mars Hill on Jan. 23. The Trojans open the second half of their SAC schedule by playing host to Queens (Jan. 26), while playing five of its final nine regular-season contests on the road.
The 2019 South Atlantic Conference Tournament will feature the top eight teams in the league squaring off on Wednesday, March 6 at the home sites of the four top seeds, with the tournament semifinals and championship slated to be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 9-10, at Timmons Arena in Greenville, S.C. for the eighth consecutive season.