HANCEVILLE – Wallace State and Shelton State’s basketball teams have engaged in many memorable regular-season tilts in recent years.
None may be as intriguing across the board as Monday’s upcoming doubleheader at Tom Drake Coliseum.
Both Wallace State basketball teams have put together impressive seasons as the calendar has shifted into the meat of the conference schedule. Wallace State’s men (17-4, 3-0 Alabama Community College Conference) are red hot, riding a 10-game winning streak into Monday’s showdown. It’s the Lions’ longest winning streak in the John Meeks’ era and the best since an 18-game run during the 2009-10 season.
Meanwhile, the Wallace State women are 17-3 overall and 3-0 in conference play. The Lady Lions have reeled off wins in 13 of their last 14 games and are a perfect 9-0 at home this season.
When Shelton State visits on Monday, the Bucs will enter with only a loss apiece between their two teams. The Shelton State women (19-1) are ranked fifth in the latest NJCAA poll, winning 18 in a row, and the men (19-1) are ranked ninth, winning 12 straight.
“If there’s a thing as our biggest basketball rival at Wallace State, it’s without a doubt Shelton State. They’re coming in at No. 5 and we got enough votes this week to be considered the No. 26 team. It’s the first of what we hope is going to be three games against them this season,” said Wallace State women’s coach Ron Burdette. “It should be a fun and wild environment to coach in, but we’ll try to treat it like the next game on our schedule. If we win, it puts us in a spot to control our own destiny and the ultimate thing is it gives us a chance to have a bye during the conference tournament. We can’t win the conference on Monday, but we can take a huge step forward as far as what we want to do come March.”
Added Wallace State men’s coach John Meeks about the rivalry: “Wallace State and Shelton State has to be the best rivalry in our conference. It’s talked about from the first day you set foot on campus. It never fails to be exciting. Both teams are playing very, very well. The team that wins has an upper hand as far as having an opportunity to win the regular season. So far we have won three conference games and have won three daily championships. We treat each game like a championship.”
Monday’s doubleheader begins with the women’s game at 5:30 p.m.
Wallace State’s women have punished opponents all season with a balanced scoring attack and solid defense. Morgan Pearson, a sophomore from New Site, Miss., leads the team in scoring with 13 points per game off the bench. Freshman Morgan Smith puts in 10.6 a game, Jasmine Coleman scores 9.8 along with collecting a team-high 7.6 rebounds, Jaylan Snowden adds 9.4 and Brandee Busenlehner scores 7.5 per game, doing most of her damage from behind the 3-point arc.
The Lady Lions are second in the league with an average of 76.8 points per game and they hold opponents to an average of 56.2 points per game.
Burdette believes his team’s maturation as the season has progressed is a key component to the success.
“I’m really proud of our sophomores for mentoring the freshmen and bringing them up to speed. We have three or four freshmen who have contributed significantly all season. I really don’t consider them freshmen anymore. Our sophomores went through the grind last year as freshmen and know what it takes to achieve something like a conference championship,” Burdette said. “We are tested and prepared for pressure situations. We play hard and don’t get rattled. That’s a big difference from last year. You can’t coach or teach heart, but it’s easy to coach when you have players with heart like we do.”
Even though the women’s conference tournament is more than a month away, Wallace State and Shelton State have played for the last three championships, with the Lady Lions prevailing in 2011.
Wallace State’s men won state championships in 2010 and 2012, beating Shelton State both times in the title games, and appear to be a strong contender to win another one this season.
Meeks entered the season with the most returning sophomore experience he’s had during his Wallace State tenure and it’s paid off. While freshman Lee Moore leads the team with 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, the sophomore guard tandem of Jestin Lewis and Marcus Johnson has been equally as vital. Lewis averages 16.8 points per game, while Johnson tosses in 15.6.
“We’ve been able to score all season, but we’ve really come together defensively during this streak. We emphasize defense all the time, but our guys have done a good job of getting as excited about defense as they are about offense,” Meeks said. “Tuesday’s win against Southern Union was our most complete effort of the season. I was very proud of how we defended. We challenged a lot of guys to step up individually, and they bought into that challenge.”
The men’s tip off time is 7:30 p.m. on Monday.
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.