Around the Region

Breaking new ground at LeTourneau

Martin and the Yellow Jackets believed they could make history this season. So, they went out and did it.
LeTourneau Athletics
 

Jeff Martin looks back at least season with LeTourneau and then thinks about all the Yellow Jackets have accomplished this year.

It's pretty amazing.

A year ago, LeTourneau struggled to win the close games, falling nine times by five points or less, a performance that was the driving force behind their final record of 12-14.

This season, the story is different. LeTourneau is 20-5 and rolling right along as champions of the ASC East Division.

Martin, a senior guard who transferred in from Murray State last year, always knew this kind of success was possible. It was just a matter of making a few changes.

"This year has been great," Martin said. "When I got here, the team was coming off a 5-20 season. The big focus was changing the culture and figuring out how to win the close games."

It didn't happen instantly.

LeTourneau began the season at 3-3, with all three losses by less than 10 points. The Yellow

Jackets have been rolling along ever since, winning 20 games and a division title for the first time in program history. They will host the ASC tournament this weekend.

"We had a feeling it was going to be a great season," Martin said. "We set high goals for ourselves and knew we had the potential to play at a high level. We said we were going to make history this year, and we've done that."

Success starts with having the right pieces in place. Martin is one of those pieces. He is one of five transfers on the roster and noted it wasn't too difficult to mesh with his teammates when he came on board last season and averaged 13.4 points per game while ranking third in the nation in assists (173).

"It was a fast adjustment," Martin said. "I came from a good Division I team and knew the challenges that I faced coming in here trying to help turn things around. I faced those challenges head on."

The Newcomer of the Year in the ASC East Division a year ago, Martin hasn't missed a beat this season, putting up 13.3 points per game. He has handed out 145 assists while turning the ball over just 43 times.

His ability to make plays has helped fuel an offense cranking out close to 90 points per outing and featuring seven players averaging five or more points per game.

His success should surprise no one. Not just because of his talent, but because of the fact that his head coach is the same one he had in high school. Dan Miller is now in his third year with the Yellow Jackets.

"I know what Coach Miller expects and how to run his system," Martin said. "He's done a great job of leading us. It's huge having that familiarity with him."

Miller's presence at LeTourneau is the reason Martin opted to play for the Yellow Jackets.

"He was my coach in high school and I believed in the process," Martin said. "I was confident we could become a very good basketball team."

That belief has become a reality as the Yellow Jackets are on the rise. The 5-20 campaign of two years ago is now a distant memory thanks to the efforts of top scoring threats like Alec Colhoff (15.9), Nate West (12.8) and Caleb Loggins (11.4).

But beyond the statistics is the intangible of leadership, something Martin has done his best to provide.

"I feel like I'm leading at a different level than I was last year," Martin said. "I've stepped up on and off the court and it's paying off."

Martin said the chemistry of the team is as strong as ever, something Martin and his teammates worked hard to forge in the offseason.

"Everyone is on the same page and we all have a role to play," Martin said. "We have a lot of guys capable of stepping up on any given night."

LeTourneau hopes to win the conference tourney and clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Yellow Jackets are capable of landing an at-large bid as well, sitting in fifth in the latest regional rankings.

For now, the Yellow Jackets are only focused on the task in front of them.

"We're taking it one game at a time," Martin said. "We're going to be locked into the scouting report and just stay in the moment. We aren't going to look past anyone or look ahead to the possibility of going to the NCAA tournament."

No matter how it plays out, one thing is for sure. Martin and the Yellow Jackets have come a long way.

"It's a great feeling to see our team change into what it has," Martin said. "We've been able to turn it around and we know if we keep playing up to our potential, we have a chance to go far."

Tornados close out regular season on high note

Concordia wrapped up its regular season Saturday with a 65-49 win over McMurry.

Jaela Dejean played a pivotal role in the win, pouring in 23 points for the Tornados, who are 16-9 overall and 9-7 in the ASC.

The Tornados turned the ball over 23 times but their ability to hold the War Hawks to 25.4 percent shooting from the floor made a difference in the outcome. The 49 points is the fourth-fewest points allowed by Concordia this season.

Dejean has led Concordia in scoring the last three games, scoring more than 20 in each one. She is the leading scorer on the team this season, putting up 17.2 points per outing. Dejean has stepped up defensively as well, racking up 46 steals.

Kangaroos carry momentum into conference tourney

Bryce Frank recorded her eighth double-double of the season and Ann Savage drained three shots from beyond the arc as Austin capped off the regular season with a 75-64 win over Centenary. Austin is 18-7 overall and 10-4 in the SCAC.

Frank scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. She also dished out five assists. Savage, who tore her ACL before the start of her freshman year last season, continues to be a great example of a comeback story.

Savage finished Saturday's game with 11 points and is averaging 9.0 points per game. She has made three or more treys eight times this season and has scored in double figures nine times, pouring in 20 or more three times.

As for Frank, the sophomore leads the Kangaroos in scoring, putting up 14.4 points per outing. She is also the top rebounder on the team and in the conference, grabbing 10.6 per game.

Kirkendoll made right call returning to college

Centenary star Travion Kirkendoll declared for the NBA draft last season but did not hire an agent, giving him a chance to test the waters but also leaving the door open for his return.

Ultimately, Kirkendoll decided to come back for another season and has thrived for the Gents. He scored 22 in a 102-98 win over Austin Saturday and is second on the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game.

Five times this year he has led the Gents in scoring and he has also been an asset on defense, racking up a team-best 54 steals. Only a junior, he still has the potential to grow even more as a player and one day live out his dream of playing at the pro level.

Cougars set record

Averett knows how to set a record in style. The Cougars won their 18th game of the year Sunday in thrilling fashion, edging Greensboro 58-56 in the quarterfinal round of the USA South Athletic Conference tournament.

Sam Chandler hit two free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining and helped the Cougars hang on for a victory that sets the program record for wins in a season. It breaks the previous best of 17 wins during the 2009-10 campaign, which is also the last time Averett won a conference tournament game. The Cougars are 18-8 on the season.

Alixis Roccia paved the way with 18 points and is averaging 7.6 points per game for the Cougars, who have already won four more games than they did all of last season.

Stormy Petrels finish strong

Oglethorpe finished out the regular season with a 106-89 win over Berry Saturday, finishing the regular season in a tie for fourth in the SAA standings. Oglethorpe has never finished lower than fourth in SAA play. It is 7-7 in the conference and 10-15 overall.

Drew Patrick rose to the occasion in helping the Stormy Petrels win their fourth consecutive game. He scored 29 points, knocking down four 3-pointers along the way, and he nearly had a double-double as he grabbed nine boards.

Patrick has been playing well this season, averaging 12.6 points per outing. The senior standout has scored 20 or more six times this year.

[Click here to read full column]


Columnist

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3football.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

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