Braves take both in homestand, now sit 4-4 in SWAC

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

LORMAN &045; This one was done. There were no two ways about it. At least, that’s what those who headed for the doors of the Whitney Complex with more than 13 minutes left were thinking Monday.

Staring a 15-point deficit dead on for teams built around youth such as Alcorn’s is supposed to be too intimidating.

Teams that start two sophomores and a true freshman are prone to crumble with such a seemingly insurmountable shortage.

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However, as Southwestern Athletic Conference teams are rapidly learning, Sam West’s inaugural bunch of Braves are maturing beyond their years.

Alcorn shooed away a 52-37 Alabama A&M lead as if it was a harmless fly to prevail against the Bulldogs 70-67 and get to .500 in SWAC play.

&uot;We issued a challenge to them to not to quit and to bounce back,&uot; West said. &uot;They just accepted the challenge and played like a family.&uot;

Alcorn (5-10, 4-4) looked rather uninterested for the first 6 and 1/2 minutes of the second half at both ends of the court.

The Braves were tardy in getting to loose balls, were outmuscled on the boards and in the paint, and did not score their first points of the final 20 minutes until Trey Johnson hit a pull-up jumper with 14:02.

While the Braves were busy finding themselves, A&M (5-10, 3-4) took advantage of its opponent’s lackadaisical play.

The Bulldogs’ lead grew to 52-37, when Obie Trotter hit his third 3-pointer of the game with 13:28 left.

&uot;It was like we didn’t have any legs,&uot; West said. &uot;We weren’t reacting to the long rebounds and doing a poor job of blocking out.&uot;

The tide began to change when Johnson, who equaled Trotter with a game-high 18 points, answered Trotter’s trey.

Johnson’s triple sparked a 15-2 Alcorn run over the next four minutes that cut its deficit to a bucket, as the Braves suddenly realized that intermission had ended.

&uot;We came out in the second half and were still trying to turn things around,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Everybody started saying if we start playing some defense we can do it. I didn’t care if we won by 20 or lost by 20, we were all going to give it our all for the next (14) minutes.&uot;

A&M pushed its advantage back up to six before the Braves reduced it again to two with a pair of free throws from John Chandler and a putback from Jefferson County star Juan Wyatt, who finished with a career-high eight points.

A catch-and-layup from Wyatt 80 seconds later tied the game 60-apiece with 5:23 left.

&uot;We’re never out of any game because of our talent,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We’re getting better at finishing games. Everybody likes to compete on this team.&uot;

The Bulldogs took their last lead on two made free throws from Trotter with 4:20 remaining, before Myles Howard hit a fallaway jumper and DeAndre Jones buried a 3 for Alcorn’s first lead, 65-62, since it led 6-5 in the first.

Brian Jackson, who finished with his season’s first double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, made a free throw to increase the lead to four with 2:44 to go.

&uot;You’re not going to hold onto a lot of leads on the road when the other team shoots that many free throws,&uot; A&M head coach Vann Pettaway said. &uot;We had the lead and then we put them at the line. They were able to cut into out lead without the clock moving.&uot;

After Johnson made a pair from the charity stripe with 14.3 seconds left, the Bulldogs last gasp effort to send the contest into overtime was way off the mark.

&uot;The turnaround was when we started applying a little bit of pressure and got a couple of steals,&uot; West said. &uot;I was never worried about teams counting us out. As long as we continue to improve, we’ll be fine. I’m not here for just a year.&uot;

The Bulldogs led by as many as five in the first half before Alcorn came back to tie it 35-all on Johnson’s first trey of the evening.

However, A&M reeled off a 9-0 run heading into the locker rooms to quiet the Brave crowd and built on the 44-35 lead by scoring the first five points of the second half.

&uot;We knew we were better than a 500 team,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Early on we were still learning the system. We know the talent we have, and we continue to work hard every day, improving game-by-game.&uot;