Lions give Southern Mississippi all it can handle

By Doug Fitzgerald published November 21, 2004

RENO, Nev. - The Mountain Lions' men's basketball rebuilding rebuilding project just moved ahead of schedule.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs took a quantum step forward Sunday, looking the Division I Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles straight in the eyes before dropping a 75-61 decision in the consolation game of the Jim Thorpe Classic at the University of Nevada's Lawler Events Center.

After dropping their first three games (two of which were exhibitions), all against much larger and more talented Division I teams, by 38, 49 and 55 points, CU-Colorado Springs looked like it belonged on the same court against Southern Mississippi. The Mountain Lions outshot the Golden Eagles 48.8 percent to 44.4 percent and nearly matched them in rebounds, with Southern Mississippi holding a narrow 35-32 edge.

"We did a much better job of shooting tonight and we played very hard on the defensive end," said CU-Colorado Springs coach Lance Hammond. "We're still losing the possession battle. We had 20 turnovers and they only had five; that's 15 extra possessions we gave them. We had six offensive rebounds and they had 19; that's 13 extra possessions. So we gave them 28 extra possessions. If we had those possessions and score on 50 percent of them, that's 28 points and we win the game."

Mark it down: four games into Hammond's five-game, season-opening monster schedule, the rookie coach is able to chart the course that would have led his team to a win. Considering the Mountain Lions have yet to play a Division II opponent, that puts his construction project way ahead of schedule.

"We still need to do a better job taking care of the ball and rebounding," said Hammond. "Until we do that, we won't win a basketball game."

True enough. And playing somebody their own size should help the Mountain Lions accomplish all three of those goals.

Sunday, Torrey Phillips led CU-Colorado Springs with 15 points and was effective breaking down the Southern Mississippi defense with penetration dribbling. Devin Martin and Jim Pecic each added 12 points, most of those while operating out of the post.

"When (opponents are) playing behind the post (player), you have to get them the basketball because it forces them to help and flattens the defense," said Hammond, whose team was able to use the post pass to open up the perimeter game. "We did a much better job of going inside-out. We don't have a shortage of good shooters."

After struggling from the perimeter in their first three games, the Mountain Lions made seven of their 14 3-pointers.

The game was tied at 19 with 6:23 remaining in the first half when CU-Colorado Springs had its one and only lapse. Southern Mississippi went on a 16-2 run before Stephon Hicks and Martin made consecutive 3-pointers to close the deficit to eight at halftime.

A Keith Flores 3-pointer with 14:03 remaining in the game got the Mountain Lions to within seven, but they were unable to get any closer.

Nonetheless, the Mountain Lions can see the improvement and know they're building towards something special.

"We are a more solid team already this year than we were at any time last year," said Pecic, a senior who's been with the team the past two seasons. "We have a more cohesive unit and more chemistry, but we still need a lot of improvement."

CU-Colorado Springs will play its first Division II opponent of the season on Friday, or at least a team that competes as a Division II team. The Metro State Roadrunners have won two of the past four national championships and are more like a Division I team in both talent and funding.

"It doesn't get any easier," said Hammond. "Metro State is very similar to the team we just got done playing. They're very athletic, long, quick and explosive. If we have 20 turnovers against Metro State, we'll get a similar result."

After Sunday's performance, Hammond doesn't need to convince his team of that. Coach and players are on the same wavelength.

"We can't be satisfied," said Pecic. "We're gearing towards the (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) season and, come first game of conference, we'll be ready."

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Jim PecicJim Pecic32FJr.
Jim PecicJim Pecic20FJr.
Jim PecicJim Pecic20FSr.
Stephon HicksStephon Hicks40G/FSr.
Devin MartinDevin Martin42C/FFr.
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