LUBBOCK – Hard work apparently pays off.
The Howard College Hawks spent much of the week leading up to the Region V junior college basketball tournament fine-tuning their defense and the results of all that preparation were on display Thursday at Lubbock Christian University's Rip Griffin Center.
The Hawks delivered a stunning defensive performance in the first half of their tournament opener and that was more than enough to secure them an 85-57 victory over Weatherford College.
With the win, Howard advances to the semifinal round of the tournament, where it will face Odessa College at noon Saturday.
So dominant was Howard in the opening minutes of Thursday's game that it took more than three minutes for a Weatherford shot to draw iron, much less find the netting. By the time Weatherford's Kervens Calixte sank a jumper, with 16:46 left in the first half, the Hawks had already jumped out to a 9-0 lead, and things only got worse for the Coyotes from there.
By the end of the first half, Howard had a more-than-comfortable 47-20 lead and had limited Weatherford to a paltry 30 percent (9 of 30) from the field.
“We worked on our defensive game all week in practice,” said sophomore wing man Shavon Coleman, who was one of five Hawks who scored in double figures during the game. “It all paid off today.”
Damion McGee, Jacob Thomas and Calvin Godfrey led the Hawks (23-7) with 13 points apiece, while Coleman scored 12 points and Leon Cooper added 11. Weatherford, which finished its season with a 14-14 record, was led by Elliot Dean, who scored 17 points, and Chris Whitehead, who added 11.
There were some dark clouds surrounding all the sunshine for Howard, however – the Hawks' roster, already thinned by the disciplinary suspension of guard Jerry Dixon, may have suffered another key loss when Thomas went down clutching his right foot in the second half.
Preliminary indications were that Thomas suffered a sprained ankle, but team officials were cautious in their assessment, especially given the sophomore guard's injury history.
“It was the same foot he broke last year,” HC Coach Mark Adams said. “We'll probably get it X-rayed … but we really don't know right now.”
With reserve post player Zec Smith shaking off a bout of bronchitis, health has become a major issue for the Hawks, Adams said.
“Our biggest concern is that the players aren't really healthy right now,” he said.
Even if Thomas is unavailable Saturday, however, Coleman sounded confident that the Hawks would be able to overcome his absence.
“This is a very strong team,” he said. “Every time somebody's gone down this season, somebody else has come along to help pick up the slack … We've just got to keep battling.”
In other Region V action Thursday, Odessa defeated Ranger, 84-61, New Mexico Junior College edged out McLennan Community College, 70-62, and South Plains College – the nation's top-ranked junior college team – blasted Temple, 115-75.
Following the Hawks' game with Odessa Saturday, South Plains will meet NMJC at 2 p.m.
WEATHERFORD (57) – Kervens Calixte 4 0-0 8; Chris Whitehead 4 3-4 11; Mladen Loncarevic 2 1-2 6; Matt Qualls 1 4-7 6; Marcus Willis 0 0-1 0; Ognjen Zoric 2 0-0 5; Eric Stubbs 2 0-0 4; Elliot Dean 6 1-2 17; totals 21 10-17 57.
HOWARD (85) – Leon Cooper 2 6-6 11; Rico Richardson 4 0-0 8; Jacob Thomas 5 1-1 13; Calvin Godfrey 5 3-4 13; Shavon Coleman 4 2-3 12; Phillip Miller 3 0-0 8; Damion McGee 6 1-1 13; Marsalis Stewart 2 0-0 4; Chad Posthumus 1 1-2 3; totals 32 12-15 85.
Halftime – Howard 47, Weatherford 20; Three-point goals – Weatherford 5 (Zoric, Dean 4), Howard 6 (Cooper, Thomas 2, Coleman, Miller 2); Total fouls – Weatherford 17, Howard 22; Fouled out – Weatherford (Anderson), Howard none; Technicals – none.