Tonight the Frank Phillips College Plainsmen (8-8) will put a three game winning streak and an undefeated record in the BCAC this season on the line, when they host the #10 Odessa College Wranglers (15-1) in both teams’ WJCAC Conference opener beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Thanks to the mixture of a new coaching staff and 12 new faces on the team, the Plainsmen were forced to start the season learning how to play together in the early part of their non-schedule.
As expected, the Plainsmen took some lumps early on by starting the year with a 2-4 mark. But over the past several weeks the team has started to gel, including winning their last three games.
The changes in the team since November have not gone unnoticed by first year Plainsmen Head Coach Chris Hackett, who said, “I think the biggest improvement has just been growing up and maturing. Having to throw so many freshmen out there right away was very tough on them. Some were ready and some weren't, but we didn't have a choice! As they have adjusted and developed, our turnovers have gone down and our shot selection has improved.”
One of the areas Hackett said he has seen the biggest difference in has been how the team has finished out games with more poise and making better decisions in key situations
In five of their eight losses, the Plainsmen held the lead late in close games, only to see the game slip away.
But last Tuesday, the Plainsmen were down by five points late in the game, but were able to play good defense, hit free throws and make plays down the stretch to pull out the 79-76 over Lamar CC.
On the court, the Plainsmen have seen contributions from the entire bench. However, freshman point guard Ronald Scott has established himself as a dangerous player on both ends of the floor by averaging just under 12 points and two steals per game, while freshmen Taquan McDew and Akeem Johnson have proved to be go-to guys, both averaging over 11 points per game.
Hackett has a lot of confidence in the trio, saying, “Ronald has been great and he is getting better every game. He played the shooting guard in high school and we moved him to the point, which is where he needs to be at this level. He has had the toughest job of everyone and has handled it well. He still has the scorer’s mentality, but he has been able to run our offenses and keep the rest of the team involved at the same time.” Hackett added, “Taquan and Akeem have been the other two players that have been our most consistent and we rely on both of them every night. They are both scorers, but Taquan's defense and Akeem's rebounding have also been vital.”
Another player that is establishing himself as a big factor for the team is 6-10 freshman Alex Zivkovic.
Zivkovic missed several games due to an illness. But the Serbian has shown the ability to take control in the paint and occasionally step out and hit the three pointer.
As the team has shown improvement in recent weeks, Hackett still knows there is plenty of room for the team to get better, saying, “We have to continue to improve and get tougher. It was a big adjustment for the freshman at the start of the season and I think it will be another adjustment at the start of conference as the level of competition goes up. The one specific area that has been a problem for us all year and may be magnified in league play is rebounding. We have really struggled to rebound the ball against aggressive teams.”
In looking ahead to conference play, Hackett added, “We are going to have to go in confident and play with smarts and toughness. We have shown we are capable of competing with anyone, we took Barton to double overtime on the road and they were as high as #7 in the nation this year! We have to stay together, work for each other and have great effort every night. We also need to protect our home court. Winning on the road in the WJCAC is very tough, so we need to make sure we take care of business at home. So far we are 5-0 in Borger; we need to keep that streak going!”
For tonight, the Plainsmen will take on a Wrangler team that is averaging 87 points per game, while giving up just 62 points per game.
The guard duo of Derrick Barden and Matthew Hunter has led the team offensively, with Barden averaging 21 points per game and Hunter putting in 16 points per game.
Hackett understands the challenge the Plainsmen face tonight against Odessa College, saying, “They have very good players and one of the best coaches in the country. I expect they will be well prepared, play hard and be looking to get off to a winning start in conference. Hopefully we will do the same and it will be a great game.”