Alabama State is one 30-foot shot at Jackson State away from being undefeated in Southwestern Athletic Conference play, but men’s basketball coach Lewis Jackson isn’t getting caught up in his team’s 3-1 conference start.
Beating a struggling Grambling State team to open conference play wasn’t surprising and playing Jackson State even wasn’t necessarily earth-shattering but impressive wins over Mississippi Valley State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the first two games of a three-game home stand showed some characteristics that aren’t common among teams that are fielding an entirely new lineup.
The Hornets dictated their tempo and their style of play to the Delta Devils, a team that is among the best offensive units in the conference. The Hornets closed the defensive gaps that had led to a Jackson State defense and showed great teamwork in denying a talented group of scorers from getting a clean look at the basket.
Two nights later, the Hornets were even more impressive in their win over an experienced and taller UAPB team. Alabama State fell behind early and never panicked, a great sign of poise from a team that shouldn’t be as poised considering point guard Jamel Waters and power forward Luther Page are the only players returning with any real experience.
The Hornets continued to battle back time after time and when they finally pulled even, they were able to withstand a late UAPB rally with strong defense and clutch 3-point shooting from Bobby Brown.
Home-court advantage being what it is in most basketball conferences, including the SWAC, means ASU probably won’t have the same success when they go on the road to Itta Bena and Pine Bluff later this season, but just winning two home games against what was perceived as better teams is an indication that the preseason pick of the Hornets to finish seventh in the 10-team league might be a tad low.
And it might mean the Hornets are on the way to a better finish than anyone could have anticipated.
But don’t tell Jackson. He likes his team in an underdog role and wants to make sure they stay hungry.
“We ARE rebuilding,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to win some ballgames and it starts with your point guard. He’s making things happen for us. You kind of have a chance every night if you can get some other guys to play along with him.
“But we are in a rebuilding stage. We have 11 new players. We’re still trying to find ourselves and to jell together and (beating UAPB) was a big step in doing that. We just have to continue to come to practice and work hard and bring great attitudes and a great work ethic and some good things can continue to happen.”