Last year at this time, the Statesmen entered the Gulf South Conference Tournament as a No. 8 seed. After losing in the first round to Alabama-Huntsville 72-50, Delta State finished up the season at 6-21, losing 19 of its last 21 games.
This year, under first head coach Jim Boone, Delta State, at 11-15, has already won almost twice as many games as last year and will be entering the tournament as a fifth seed. The Statesmen will enter this year’s tournament in Birmingham, Ala. riding a two-game winning streak. They defeated West Florida 66-62 on Thursday and Valdosta State 77-61 on Saturday at the Walter Sillers Coliseum.
Boone said he is pleased with the overall progress his team has made up to this point in the year.
“I think we’ve had a season where it’s been up, up, up and up,” Boone said. “As the season has progressed, our team has gotten better and better with each week. I think when you look back at the course of the year, the progress we have made in terms of individual and collective improvement is amazing.
“Hopefully, we can take that enthusiasm and energy from winning two games here on Thursday and Saturday and ride it into Birmingham.”
Delta State will have a rematch against Valdosta State, a No. 4 seed at 17-9, in the first round of the tournament on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
“We can’t think about anything other than the fact that we have Valdosta State on Friday,” Boone said. “That’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that was a hard, fought game on Saturday. Frankly, there is some bad blood between Valdosta and us. I thought our guys did a great job of holding it together and competing for 40 minutes and putting us in a position to win that game. Valdosta is going to come in on Friday and they’re going to be prepared and ready to play. They’re going to want vindication. That’s the bad news.
“The good news is our guys did a great job with all that, and we know we can do it and the confidence comes from demonstrated ability and we certainly played really well on Saturday. Hopefully, we can take that into Friday’s game.”
Delta State’s defense has significantly improved from last season. In the 2011-12 year, the Statesmen gave up 76.6 points per game, which was seventh in the conference. This season, DSU currently leads the GSC in scoring defense, yielding just 61.4 points per game. The Statesmen have also given up the fewest field goals (545) and fewest field goal attempts (1,305) in the GSC.
“We’ve really done a good job of controlling tempo,” Boone said. “For us to win, we had to be able to do that. We’ve also done a great job on the glass.”
Delta State has also done a much better job of sharing the basketball as well. Last year, the Statesmen were last in the conference in assists per game at 9.8. This year, the Statesmen are tied for fifth in the GSC with North Alabama in assists per game (12.8).
“We’re having a much better understanding of how to find the open man and get the ball to the open man,” Boone said. “The assist totals indicate a number of different things. They also indicate our ability to screen and cut to get people open. The fact that we’ve got a team that is willing to share the basketball, make the extra pass and pass up a good shot to get a great shot, those are all the things that we look for from a coaching perspective.”
Senior Forward Terry Leake, Jr. has led the Statesmen all season. He is tops on the team in scoring (17.7 ppg.), rebounding (8.5 rpg.), free throw shooting (.766) and total steals (25). Freshman guard Jack Madgen (10.1 ppg., 3.7 apg.) and junior guard Cornell Knight (9.4 ppg., 3.8 apg.) have also been stellar for the Statesmen.
The GSC Tournament will conclude on Sunday with the championship game set for 4:30 p.m. The winner of the GSC Tournament will get an automatic berth in the South Region Tournament, which is set to start on Mar. 16.