- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Not even a 15-day layoff could slow down these College of Southern Maryland Hawks, who are on a mission to boast one of the greatest men’s basketball seasons, if not the best, in the 41 years of the program’s existence.
Monday, the Hawks defeated St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s junior varsity team of the NCAA Division III outfit in a thrilling 94-91 overtime outcome on the road, solidifying CSM’s No. 13 national ranking in the most recent Division II junior college poll.
The St. Mary’s varsity unit is ranked No. 23 in the latest NCAA Division III national rankings.
The game marked the first time since before Christmas that the Hawks saw any competitive action on the court after inclement weather postponed Friday’s slated home affair with Thomas Nelson (Va.).
CSM won for the eighth time in its last nine contests.
“To be ranked amongst some of the best programs in the country is an honor,” Hawks seventh-year head coach Alan Hoyt said, his club toting a 12-3 overall while maintaining a first-place 5-1 tab in the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference entering tonight’s 7 p.m. showdown at home versus league rival Prince George’s (10-5, 4-2). “[Our national ranking] is something we try to not worry about. These athletes have been working hard all season, and as coaches we keep preaching about going to work every day.”
Hoyt is a Great Mills High School graduate.
The Hawks began this season with a high level of confidence after making history in last season’s playoffs as the first team with the last seed in the Region XX tournament to advance all the way to a championship game, playing for a berth into nationals with the District 15 title on the line.
The Hawks, who have already matched last year’s win total, fell in that district title game, 88-83 in overtime, to heavy favorite and much taller Howard.
But only returning players and co-captains Sigourney Jackson (Thomas Stone) and guard Juwan Cole, the Hawks were not content during the offseason with solely experiencing a Cinderella run by last season’s 12-19 team, managing just a 4-11 record in the league.
They believed the Hawks should have been in the nationals tournament for the first time since 1987 and have been driven this season to make sure that happens with a motivation that has swept through the team in a feverish contagiousness.
“I definitely think that we’ll be able to carry it over,” Jackson said earlier this season about the momentum of last year’s finish. “One of the main things that carries over from last year is confidence, just knowing what it takes and how hard you have to work in practice [and] just overall team chemistry. We didn’t have a good [regular] season last year because we were just still trying to find out what everybody was going to do with playing together.”
Cole, who drained some big three-pointers in Monday’s victory, added back in late November, “We knew as returning players that we have to set the standard, that if we start off strong, everybody else will follow as freshmen. It was our job to work over the summer so when the season started, we could set the goal for [our team].”
The Hawks coach has the utmost confidence that his team will continue playing at this elite level throughout the remainder of the campaign, which includes 10 more scheduled regular season games, eight within the Maryland JUCO, not including making up Friday’s postponement against Thomas Nelson.
“We play more as a team and are playing together,” Cole said. “Now that we have more players [than last season in the postseason] and we’re playing together, it’s even better.”
Hoyt added, “Our captains Juwan and SJ wouldn’t be leading this team as they are without that taste in their mouths [of coming up just short at regionals last year].”
The Hawks are on pace to showcase a season that would rival the best in program history, dating back to the 1980s when CSM went to nationals four straight years and finished with at least 22 wins and no more than seven losses. The program’s best record was 26-4 in the 1985-86 campaign.
“I’m really impressed with [my players’] never-say-die attitude,” said Hoyt, who played his high school hoops at Great Mills where he led the team to the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference crown in 2000. “It’s really hard to find one thing that we do great night now, but we do a lot of good things on both sides of the ball.”
That doesn’t mean the Hawks are without needing improvement.
“Our season will be decided on how we defend,” the Hawks coach added. “We have had good stretches, but we really haven’t put it all together yet.”
The postseason tips off with the Maryland JUCO tournament on the Prince George’s hardwood Feb. 11 to 16. Then the Region XX tournament follows Feb. 27 to March 1 at Hagerstown. Winning the district final there would punch the Hawks’ ticket to the national tournament March 18 to 22 in Danville, Ill.
The Hawks will be major contenders at the Maryland JUCO and regional tournaments and hope to be impact performers at nationals.
“I believe we haven’t played our best ball yet,” Hoyt said. “This will be a better team in March. “[We’re] capable, yes [of making nationals]. But it all comes down to that first weekend in March [of winning at regionals]. As we proved last year as the [No.] 10 seed, crazy things can happen [at regionals]. With that said, the national tourney is the goal.”