Ferrum College’s Kylene Culler grabs a rebound in the post for the Panthers, while teammate Jessica Rhodes (see More Photos link) makes a strong move to the basket for two points. (Staff Photos by Steven Marsh)
Friday, December 28, 2012
By STEVEN MARSH - Sports Editor
FERRUM -- Before Ferrum College's women's basketball team can begin to imagine what lies ahead in the new year, the Panthers must close out 2012 against two of the better opponents it will have faced to date.
The Panthers (2-0 in the USA South Athletic Conference, 6-0 overall) will finish a calendar year that saw them win the league championship on their home floor and advance to the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time this 1995 by facing two teams that were in the field of 64 with them: Louisiana College and Centre (Ky.) College in consecutive games in the Coaches vs Cancer tournament at Huntingdon (Ala.) College.
This is the start of the four-game tour through the Deep South. After a return home, it's back on the bus for a sojourn to Georgia for USA South games against first-year conference members Piedmont College and LaGrange College, Jan. 4 and 5.
Louisiana College (5-0 in the American Southwest Conference (ASC), 8-0 overall) is undefeated and ranked No. 24 in the most recent NCAA Division III women's poll conducted by d3hoops.com, while Centre is a season removed from an appearance in the "Sweet 16.'
Ferrum and Centre were in the same opening-round pod of last year's Division III tournament, which was played on Centre's campus in Danville, Ky. Centre defeated Guilford (N.C.) College and long-time Division III power Washington (Mo.) University, the team that ended the Panthers' season in the opening round.
"Right after Christmas, we are definitely going to be tested,' Ferrum head coach Bryan Harvey said following his team's conference triumph at home over Meredith (N.C.) College, which enhanced the Panthers' winning streak at William P. Swartz Gymnasium to 11 games dating to last year. "Louisiana and Centre are very, very good teams.'
Five of Ferrum's six wins are by double-digit spreads. In fact, its closest triumph is a six-point decision on the road against Eastern Mennonite University, one of the better teams in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC).
"A promising sign from our last two games is that we've cut down on our turnovers,' Harvey said. "That's a step in the right direction and that's important for us. ...Our goal right now is to keep working, keep getting better, then see where we are at the end of the year.'
Louisiana College averages 93.4 points-per-game. The Wildcats have broke the century mark once -- they scored 123 points in a 69-point rout of ASC foe Sul Ross (Texas) State University -- and reached it twice in wins over Centenary (La.) College, which they defeated by 37 points and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas), which they bested by 50 points.
Louisiana College's closest game to date is an eight-point, 80-72 league victory over Howard Payne (Texas) College, a team that defeated Ferrum last year by five points 83-78.
Through eight games, the Wildcats' average margin-of-victory is 31.4 points.
Louisiana College is the third team the Panthers have played from the ASC over the past two seasons. Hardin-Simmons (Texas), which Ferrum bested by 20 points (73-53) last year, also is in that league.
Centre brings a 3-6 record into the two-game event. Among its six losses are setbacks to nationally-ranked clubs Calvin (Mich.) College and Thomas More (Ky.) College and Maryville (Tenn.) College, a 2012 playoff club which is in its inaugural season in the USA South.
Ferrum's Tesla Akers has moved from No. 17 to No. 14 on the school's career scoring list.
Akers, a senior, surpassed the 1,100-point mark in the Panthers' USA South win over Meredith and has netted 1,105 points in three-plus years.
MEN RETURN TO LEAGUE PLAY: Ferrum College's men's basketball team (1-0 in the USA South, 4-5 overall) resumes USA South play Saturday when the Panthers take on North Carolina Wesleyan College (0-1 in the USA South, 7-2 overall) in a 4 p.m. matinee at Swartz Gymnasium.
The Panthers, who opened conference play by defeating Greensboro (N.C.) College on the road, bring a three-game losing streak into the contest, having lost in succession to Randolph College, Goucher (Md.) College and Lynchburg College.
The setback to the Hornets came in Ferrum's first game following semester exams by an 88-85 final count.
"We've played a tough schedule, but what is disappointing is I don't think we had our best effort against Randolph Macon or great efforts against Randolph and Goucher,' Ferrum head coach Bill Tharp said. "In those games, you're disappointed because you're not playing as hard as you need to. Against Lynchburg and Eastern Mennonite, we were right there.
"The key for our team, especially with as many young guys as we have, is that we have got to consistently play hard,' Tharp said.
Ferrum and N.C. Wesleyan split their regular-season games last year with each team winning on its home floor.
"N.C. Wesleyan is tough, they're always tough,' said senior guard Marshall Hamilton. We've just got to play as hard as we did (against Lynchburg), fix some of the little things, the little mistakes and I think we'll have a chance to beat them.'
The Bishops bring a two-game losing streak into the contest. They lost their league opener to Maryville, 86-72, and fell to Guilford (N.C.) College, 80-64, in their last outing.