West still upbeat despite SWAC loss

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 11, 2004

LORMAN &045; Give Alcorn head coach Sam West plenty of credit.

Even with a rough start to the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the season in general, he can still find plenty of reason to smile.

After his Braves dropped a 78-71 decision to archrival Jackson State Saturday at the Whitney Complex for their second loss in three conference games, West could have lamented over the negatives and what could have been.

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The Braves fell in a huge hole early but found a way out and cut the lead to four late. Just like Alcorn teams find a tendency to do, the team fought back and made things plenty interesting for the packed house Saturday.

&uot;For some strange reason all season long we have a lull where we can’t get anything going,&uot; West said. &uot;It happened tonight. It’s happened all year. It’s a matter of being mature, but it’s coming. It’s understanding that every play counts. You can’t take a play off.&uot;

The Braves were disciplined enough late in the game to knock down free throws and keep forcing Jackson State to foul. The Tigers kept fouling, the Braves kept hitting free throws and the spectators who kept filing for the exits kept turning around and watching before leaving the gym.

In the final 10 minutes the Braves hit 22 of 24 free throws to get back in it.

&uot;We’ve got a lot of fight in us,&uot; said point guard Trey Johnson, who finished with 12 points with 10 coming on free throws. &uot;We got down but didn’t put our heads down. We did what coach told us to and got back in the ball game. It became obvious when (JSU) got to seven fouls in the second half. They didn’t think we could shoot free throws, but we’ve got a lot of fight left in us.&uot;

Johnson canned three free throws with 24 seconds left that trimmed the lead to 75-71, and the Braves’ full-court press nearly got a steal when Brian Jackson came up with the ball. But he was off balance when he got it, and the Tigers swiped it, drove down and got Ishmael Joyce to draw a foul with 17 seconds left.

Joyce canned both his free throws for a 76-71 lead. The Braves got a couple shots off on their end of the floor but missed, and Dakari Wallace hit two more free throws for Jackson State with two seconds left to ice it.

&uot;Defensively we played well except the fouls,&uot; JSU head coach Tevester Anderson said. &uot;This was a big game for us. I thought we played real hard and played tough. We made some silly fouls in the second half to let them back in the game. I can say they didn’t make but about five shots in the second half. They’re really a good free-throw shooting team.&uot;

The Tigers, who got a combined 44 points from guards Joyce and K.C. Cavette, fired a couple of big shots midway through the second half that seemed to be the final blow. Joyce canned a 3-pointer with 8:54 left that gave the Tigers a 61-41 lead, but the Braves managed to trim the deficit to 11 on a bucket from Jackson at the 5:07 mark.

The Tigers then got a bucket from big Leonard Taylor inside before Joyce hit another 3-pointer to put the lead at 66-50 with 4:18 left.

By this time people started heading for the door.

&uot;Our guards are learning to play much better now,&uot; Anderson said. &uot;I feel like our guards are beginning to play like we’re expecting them to play. They’re playing pretty good basketball. Sometimes they got over-anxious. But our guard play was outstanding tonight.&uot;

The Braves struggled in the first half and couldn’t get anything going offensively at the start of the second half to answer the Tigers. Jackson provided a spark early with a three-point play that cut the lead to 40-33, but Joyce hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to answer it.

The Braves then turned it over on their next possession, and Cavette put in the layup off the steal for the 45-33 lead. Two and a half minutes later Aaron Gilliom put in a basket for a 51-35 Jackson lead.

&uot;I’ve got to tip my hat to Jackson State,&uot; West said. &uot;They did a great job of rebounding and did a great job of using their strengths. We just didn’t do it the first half. We missed four layups and had three turnovers behind those layups. You can’t win like that. That’s what happened. And it was no one person &045; it was everybody.&uot;

In the first half the Braves got a 25-18 lead when Almaad Jackson hit two free throws with 7:41 left, but the Tigers answered. Ross Kelly’s basket sparked a 14-4 run that ended with a Joyce basket with 31 seconds left for a 31-27 lead.