The 2013-2014 UAFS Men’s Basketball season started the way every college coach hopes. After Texas Christian University (NCAA Div. I) narrowly escaped the Lions in an exhibition game, the team reeled off 6 consecutive wins, including victories over Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State in the Lions Classic, big road wins over Missouri Southern and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and a win over then-ranked No. 10 Northeastern State (Tahlequah, Okla.). The Lions were ranked as high as 16th in the NABC poll. But after starting the season 6-0, the Lions began to face some adversity. Junior starting forward Dusan Stojanovic (Lazarevac, Serbia) went down with what was confirmed as an ACL tear and was lost for the season. The Lions then went on the road for a neutral site duel with the Angelo State Rams (San Angelo, Texas). The Rams edged the Lions 71-69 in a physical battle of the unbeatens. Following their first loss of the season, they returned home for the 4th annual Toy Toss game, in which they won handily against Ecclesia College. The following week UAFS would travel to San Antonio to face off against Heartland Conference rival St. Mary’s—falling 95-89 to begin conference play. Two days later they would face off with the Texas A&M International Dustdevils, where a buzzer beater spoiled the Lions’ road trip.
After returning from Christmas break, the Lions returned home to the Stubblefield Center to resume conference play, responding with a five-game winning streak with wins at home versus Dallas Baptist and Oklahoma Christian, and road wins over Oklahoma Panhandle State, Newman, and Rogers State. Boasting a 5-2 conference record, the Lions are sitting in second place - one game back conference leader TAMIU. Sophomore Kenny Martin, a transfer from Arizona State, has led the team the last two weeks, posting double-doubles against OPSU (15 pts, 10 rebs) and Newman (27 pts, 15 rebs) and was named Heartland Conference Player of the Week. Most recently, Martin lead the Lions (12-3, 5-2) against Rogers State, finishing with 16 points as the team narrowly escaped the Hillcats 80-78 on the road.
A big storyline to the season has been the play of true freshman guard Seth Youngblood. Youngblood, from Roland, Okla., leads all players with 14.1 points per game and is known for his deep range and crowd-favorite alley-oop slams. Senior Jake Toupal, the Lions second leading scorer (14.0 ppg), continues to be one of the best shooters in the conference. Toupal shoots 44% from behind the arc and is also tops in the conference in free-throw percentage at 87.9% (26-29). Seniors Xavier McClish (8.0 ppg, 56 assists), Bo Franklin (7.1 ppg, 4.1 rebounds per game), and Corey Copeland (4.1 ppg) have also been key contributors for the Lions.
Martin (10.3 ppg, 7.3 rebounds per game), LJ Ross (4.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), and Miha Glavas (5.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) along with Franklin hold down the paint for the Lions. Freshman point guard Alex Cooper has been a very productive sixth man this year averaging 9.2 points per game and has dished 48 assists so far. Blake Branham and Mytaa’h Crawford round out the Lions roster. Branham, a junior guard from Hackett, Ark., has also been a big contributor this season. Against Oklahoma Panhandle State, Branham led the Lions with 17 points, draining all 5 of his three-point attempts. Mytaa’h Crawford scored a career high 19 points and collected 6 rebounds against Central Baptist College in the season opener.
Lions return home this week with contests against McMurry University on Thursday at 7:30pm and St. Edwards University on Saturday at 3:00pm. Follow @lionseditor for live updates during the game.