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NBL MVP Ladder: Demitrius Conger is our pick, in an extremely tight race

Who will be the NBL's MVP?
Who will be the NBL’s MVP?

IT’S been a tight race all season, and there’s really no telling who’s actually going to win this award.

We’ve done our best to tally votes after each game, acting as the head coaches, in an attempt to accurately pick the 2018 NBL MVP, based on the league’s voting system.

There are only a few points separating our top five picks, but, at the end of the day, we had the Illawarra Hawks’ Demitrius Conger as the winner of the Andrew Gaze Trophy.

Perth Wildcats duo, Bryce Cotton and J.P. Tokoto, weren’t far behind, followed by Josh Boone and Mitch McCarron.

DEMITRIUS CONGER, ILLAWARRA HAWKS

Conger was an incredible find for Rob Beveridge, with the import wing emerging as one of the most consistent players over the course of the season.

The 27-year-old had a promising pre-season, and that carried over tot he regular season, where he averaged 19.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists a game, while shooting the ball at an impressive rate.

It’s not ideal giving the MVP award to a player on a team that didn’t qualify for the post-season, but Conger, in our books, did enough to take it.

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Ezekiel Charles lift University of New Orleans into the Second Round of the Southland Conference Tournament

KATY, Texas – One down, three to go. No. 5 University of New Orleans (15-15) defeated No. 8 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (11-18) 83-76 in the first round of the 2018 Southland Conference Tournament Wednesday evening at the Merrell Center. The win propels the Privateers to a matchup with No. 4 Sam Houston State University (18-13) tomorrow at 5 p.m.

The 57.1 percent shooting is the highest field goal percentage since UNO shot 57.8 percent in a win over Abilene Christian University February 28, 2015. Privateers debuting in Southland postseason play shined as #SCtop10 hopeful Damion Rosser scored a career-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting and added seven rebounds – five offensive – in his first tournament game. Ezekiel Charles followed tying his season-high of 15 points with seven rebounds. The junior was 3-of-5 from three-point range. Scott Plaisance finished with 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot, Lamont Berzat added 11 points – eight from the charity stripe – and dished out a career-high eight dimes off the bench and fellow #SCtop10 Diontae Champion added eight points. All five made their postseason debut Wednesday but head coach Mark Slessinger was impressed by the effort made by the entire squad.

“When putting a halo around a player tonight, we have to begin with Michael Zeno. I don’t know what it is about this gym, but he brings it here. Tyren Harrisonplayed well off the bench (five points, eight rebounds) and overall, I was pleased with our pace.”

QUEST TO REPEAT
“Our expectation is to compete for a championship. We have eight new guys this season and we are right back where we want to be. We hit some bumps along the way. I am very proud of our team and very proud to represent our city, university and community.”

ON TONIGHT’S ENERGY
“We’ve been up and down from the tip this season. Ezekiel played with poise and did an excellent job of getting us off to a good start. Every time we needed a basket, we were able to get one.”

ON TOMORROW’S OPPONENT
“We have to cut our turnovers against one of the best defenses in the country. They earned the coveted bye and were able to watch us tonight but our guys are ready and excited for the opportunity to take on a well-coached team and look to continue to move on in this tournament.”

FIRST HALF
New Orleans rode the hot hand of Charles and the defense of Plaisance early in the contest to a 11-6 lead prior to the under-16 media. Charles scored five points and Scottie P picked up a block and steal.

After five unanswered by the Islanders, UNO quickly picked up six on back-to-back triples by Charles (second of game) and Berzat. Champion followed a TAMUCC trey with a putback layup to give the Silver and Blue a 19-13 lead at the under-12 break.

The lead reached double figures on Makur Puou‘s jumper but the highlight was Rosser’s rising dunk and the foul as the freshman brought the UNO faithful at the Merrell Center to its feet. Rosser’s layup with 6:43 remaining made it an 11-point ballgame in favor of New Orleans.

The Privateers shot a sizzling 68.0 percent from the field in the first en route to a 43-29 lead. Two exclamation dunks – one by Rosser and another by Champion – Charles’ 11 points (three triples) and Berzat’s five points, five assists and two steals off the bench highlighted the first.

Plaisance added two steals and Rosser finished with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. New Orleans dominated in nearly every statistical category – +9 in rebounds, +7 in assists and the perimeter defense did not allow a field goal from three-point range.

SECOND HALF
The Ders chipped away at their deficit, condensing what was a 17-point Privateer lead to eight at the 14:09 marker.

UNO quickly returned the favor on Puou’s layup and moments later, Harrison’s and-one extended the lead to 13.

Back-to-back triples by Myles Smith cut the Privateers lead to eight but Berzat sank both free throws with 8:19 to go to make it a 10-point game.

A quick 7-0 run with back-to-back and-ones for Champion and Rosser, respectively, added onto the double-digit cushion with 5:58 remaining in round one of the Southland Conference Tournament.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi cut the UNO lead to four with 1:11 to go but Rosser came up huge, following a miss with a layup and the foul, tying his career-high of 17 points.

A late surge by the Islanders threatened but UNO connected on five of its last six free throws with less than a minute to go to advance to take on No. 4 Sam Houston State tomorrow at 5 p.m.

Denzil Haynes Jr. Brings Energy to Northern Oklahoma College – Enid

Northern Oklahoma College Enid’s 97-95 win over Redlands was Denzil Haynes’ kind of game.

While the rest were running up and down the floor with the uptempo Cougars, Haynes was around to do the dirty work with six rebounds — two offensive and four defensive to go with eight points. The Jets 13 offensive rebounds and a 45-32 advantage on the boards played a big difference in the game.

“That was a big confidence-builder for us,’’ Haynes said. “It brought us together. It was a good win, especially when Kennon (Ballance) got the steal and game-winner. We can go into Eastern (Oklahoma) with a lot of positive energy.’’

The Jets will need that energy against the Mountaineers (12-8, 2-8) today at Wilburton in the second half of a women-men’s doubleheader.

NOC Enid won a shootout, 116-101 at the Mabee Center last month.

“We’re going to keep them down and keep us going,’’ Haynes said. “It’s going to be a lot similiar to Monday.’’

The Jets (12-9 overall, 5-6) are going for their fourth win in their last five games.

Haynes has been a strong role player for the Jets averaging 7.1 rebounds and 7.2 points per game with 18 steals, seven blocks and 21 assists. He is shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 62.2 percent from the foul line.

“I try to bring a lot of positive energy off the bench with my rebounding and hustle,’’ Haynes said. “I like doing the little things for my team and try to get us a win. I’ve been more aggressive the second semester. I think I’m getting to the free throw line more and attacking the rim more.’’

Jets assistant coach Chris Gerber said Haynes has been doing “what we rely on him for. He gets a lot of easy rebounds. We need him to finish stronger around the rim better, but he’s doing a good job.’’

Haynes, a native of New York City, works with Gerber and teammate Ray’Shawn Dotson daily on rebounding. Fellow front-liners Sebastian Gray, Bryshon Bryant and Houston Johnson “have been pushing me to be the best I can be,’’ he said.

“You just need to get in good position,’’ said Haynes about the key to rebounding and inside scoring. “I’ve been working to get into position to score and help my team.’’

Haynes started five games a year ago when he averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in helping the Jets reach the national tournament for the first time.

“It’s been a little bit easier this year,’’ he said., “but I have to play a bigger role as a sophomore. They expect a lot of leadership from me and they expect more out of me. I can’t sit back and let somebody else do the work for you.’’

His leadership is being even more counted on with sophomore point guard Dyaire Holt suspended.

“Dy was a big part of the team,’’ he said. “We have to step up to bring up what he brought us and pick up the slack.

“I think I have been playing pretty well, but I have to turn it up more if we’re going to make a deep run in the regional and national tournament. I think we’re clicking together now and we’re poised to make a run. Last year showed me how far a team can go if we stick together.’’

 

Bryshon Bryant is a Work Horse

Northern Oklahoma College Enid’s 92-82 victory at Western Oklahoma on Monday was Bryson Bryant’s type of basketball.

The sophomore forward was doing the dirty work inside in a 15-point effort going seven of eight from the field, one of one from the line with five rebounds — three offensive and two defensive.

“He really played well,’’ said Jets head coach Greg Shamburg. “He played with a lot of energy. He’s getting his energy back the second half of the season. He is rebounding well and being more active. He knows he’s close to being done here and he’s refocusing a bit and doing a good job.’’

Bryant came out more focused and determined after the Jets (10-8 overall and 3-5 in the OCAC) had lost three straight.

“I just feel like we have to apply what we do in practice day,’’ Bryant said. “We work hard in practice and it just shows in the game. I’m just playing more aggressive and attacking the basket when I get the ball. I really worked hard over the break and I’m just coming back and getting a lot better.’’

Bryant’s numbers are up from his freshman year when he was a part-time starter on the first Jets team to reach the national tournament.

He is averaging 7.4 points compared to 3.1 as a freshman. He is averaging 6.3 rebounds to 2.8 last season. He is shooting 56.7 percent from the field compared to 45.5.

“The game is coming a little easier to me,’’ he said. “I’m getting adjusted to the pace better. I just plan on going after every loose ball, every rebound and attacking the glass and going back to nationals. My goal is just to win.’’

He’s the most comfortable in the paint with a physical game.

“I’m the workhorse,’’ he said. “I get the rebounds and putbacks. I play defense and try to give the team a lot of energy. I like being physical. I just attack every ball, every loose ball. I don’t ever stop attacking the ball.’’

Ray’Shawn Dotson, another inside player, was another dominant figure inside Monday with 12 points.

“It’s definitely helped me having to go against him in practice,’’ Bryant said. “Me and him battle it out and it just makes both of us better. He’s coming back next year and he’s really going to dominate.’’

His game was inspired by childhood hero Shaquille O’Neal.

“I saw how dominant he was with his size,’’ Bryant said. “He was attacking the goals and dunking on people, that’s how I want to model my game.’’

Bryant’s is studying to be an athletic trainer. He works with Jets trainer Julie Baggett with the NOC Enid women’s basketball team, the softball team and the baseball team. His ambition is to be a trainer first at the college level and then the NBA or NFL.

“Getting other players into the best shape they can be has helped me,’’ he said. “I wasn’t in the greatest of shape coming in and now I’m in the best shape of my life. Everything you do off the court — eating better and getting your sleep … it all shows on the court. I’m getting a lot of experience and I’m learning a lot.’’

Bryant is from Queens, N.Y., which is almost like being from a different planet in rural Oklahoma.

“I think being further from home has been a good thing for me,’’ he said. “I’m experiencing life and getting out and seeing the world and experiencing a new culture. I’ve grown both mentally and physically. It’s been a big change from your parents being right there in your face. You got to do it on your own, and if you don’t, no one cares.’’

He smiles and says Shamburg “definitely gets in your face.’’

“Basketball is so much different there,’’ he said about his hometown. “There’s a lot of in-your-face. The crowd gets in your face. There’s a lot of stuff that can throw you off. I learned a lot on the playgrounds and in high school. If you get good enough, then everybody is going to help you and you develop and grow.’’

He is a avid New York Knicks fan, his favorite player is ex-Knick Carmelo Anthony, now of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Jets return to action Monday at Murray State to start the second rotation of conference play. The Aggies beat the Jets, 81-77 at the Mabee Center on Nov. 30.

He is determined to make a return trip to nationals. The Jets are fighting for a good seed for the regional tournament in March which will determine the Region 2 representative.

“That was a great experience and I will do whatever I can to make sure the freshmen have that experience, too,’’ he said. “We just need to keep the wins coming.’’

 

 

Drame Twins Poised to Have a Break Summer

MANALAPAN, N.J. – There is nothing like familiarity on the court. Last weekend at Elevate Hoops’ Icebreaker II, twins from West African nation of Mali proved great things come in pairs.

Meet Hassan and Fousseyni Drame, who came to the United States last year and are prepping at powerhouse independent school Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.). At first glance, the twins share the love of the game, but each one presents a different skill set on the court.

First, they are 6-foot-5 athletic wings, both have 7-foot wingspans while still learning the game as a rising juniors (Class of 2019). They hope to attend the same college are projected as mid to high major prospects.

Hassan is a better shooter and after 17 months in the weight room, he’s stronger. His rebounding, passing and dribble drive is improving daily.

Fousseyni is offense-oriented too but is more of a slasher. He’ll attack the rim and finish in heavy traffic. His handle is very good and he makes good decisions went the pressure is ratcheted up.

“Both of them are superior athletes; their best days are ahead and they have not even scratched the surface of potential,” OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch said.

The Drames were just two of more than a thousand players competing at Sportika for Born Ready Elite 17-Under of Brooklyn before more than 120 schools at the three-day event that concluded on Sunday afternoon.

There’s more with two weeks left in the NCAA live summer evaluation period.

The action shifts to Philadelphia University this week for the next round of business as the summer live period is quickly coming to a close. Elevate Hoops will take over the Gallagher Center on Friday for three days of the Summer Showdown.

Charles drains four threes in UNO Win

 

Image result for ezekiel charles basketball

NATCHITOCHES, La. – Bryson Robinson came off the bench with a game-high 17 points, Ezekiel Charles matched his Saturday totals and career-high of 15 points and four triples and Travin Thibodeaux added 11 in the University of New Orleans’ (10-10, 7-2 Southland) 73-67 victory over Northwestern State University (3-16, 0-8 Southland) Wednesday evening at Prather Coliseum.

Robinson went 3-of-4 from three-point range and 8-of-10 from the charity stripe and Charles was 5-of-8 overall and 4-of-6 from long distance. The bench outscored Northwestern State’s second unit 36-to-15 and dominated the second chance opportunities, posting 20 points off 14 offensive boards.

FIRST HALF
The Demons scored the opening five points, but a technical foul propelled the Privateers to six unanswered to give UNO its first lead of the game.

Lamont Berzat‘s second jumper of the game at the 3:05 mark gave New Orleans its largest lead thus far (+6) and after an NSU free throw, Charles drained a three to extend the UNO lead to eight.

Early on, the clubs traded points but both teams looked sloppy at times with 22 combined turnovers. The UNO defense forced 13 Northwestern State miscues.

In the stanza, the Demons and Privateers shot the ball well with NSU draining 60.0 percent of its field goals. UNO went 13-of-25 to lead at the break 35-31.

Charles was 3-of-4 from the field with two triples to lead all players with nine points. Troy Green followed with six and Berzat added five.

SECOND HALF
Diontae Champion jumper capped off a 7-0 run that gave the Silver and Blue a nine-point lead with 13:48 to go.

Two minutes later, Thibodeaux drained a three of his own to extend the UNO lead to 53-43. The Privateers cooled off and NSU was able to rally back with eight unanswered to condense the New Orleans lead to five with 8:04 to go.

Charles took over and provided the dagger with back-to-back triples to tie his career-highs in points (15), three-pointers (four) to give UNO its largest lead of the game 66-55 with just over three minutes to play.

On the ensuing Privateers possession, Makur Puou came up with an offensive board, Zeke followed with one of his own and Thibodeaux capped off the opportunity with a layup for a 12-point cushion.

The Demons continued to claw their way back in the game, but Robinson made three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds to lead the Privateers to a 73-67 lead. The win improves the conference record to 7-2 through the first half of the 18-game Southland Conference schedule.

INSIDE THE BOX
Green scored nine points and added four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes off the bench. Champion added five points in 17 minutes in his return and Berzat scored five points before leaving the game due to injury.

For the Demons, three players reached double figures, led by Ishmael Lane’s 14 points, seven boards and four blocks. Iziahiah Sweeney scored 13 points and dished out three assists and Malik Metoyer chipped in 12.

NEXT UP
The Privateers head to San Antonio to close the season series with UIW. Tip-off is at 2:05 p.m. and the game will be televised in New Orleans on Cox Sports Television. New Orleans defeated UIW 74-70 January 20 at Lakefront Arena.

SOCIAL MEDIA
Fans are encouraged to follow @PrivateersMBB on Twitter, @PrivateersMBB on Instagram, like /PrivateersMBB on Facebook and subscribe to the PrivateerAthletics YouTube channel.