Trojans ready for 56th annual Pickle Classic

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University of Mount Olive men’s basketball followers will see “a work in progress” on the hardwood when the 56th annual Pickle Classic tips off Friday evening at Kornegay Arena.

The Trojans (0-2 overall) entertain Virginia State University at 7 p.m., while Conference Carolinas rival Barton meets St. Augustine’s at 5 p.m.

UMO and Barton will switch opponents Saturday. Game times remain the same for the round-robin event that wasn’t played in 2020 due to COVID-19.

“[We’re] playing two teams that didn’t play at all last year due to covid, so we don’t know much about them … who they’ve got coming back, who they’ve lost transfer-wise, etc.,” said UMO head men's basketball coach Joey Higginbotham.

“It will be an interesting weekend. I think we’ll all have the same kind of objective, which is getting to know our new guys. We’re not like Division I programs that have been practicing 40 or 50 days.

“Those two weekend games are going to be huge for us going forward.”

Two starters — Alan Treakle and Matthias Caver — return for UMO.

A senior guard, Treakle scored 22 points and doled out six assists during the Trojans’ season-opening loss against Augusta in the Barton 45-Second Classic. He pumped in 18 points the following day against Columbus State.

Caver, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, tallied 16 points against Augusta.

A key reserve last season, junior Trayvon Ferrell filed a double-double – 10 points, 12 rebounds – in the Augusta contest. He notched 15 points against Columbus State.

The trio is expected to handle the scoring and leadership load for a team that has seven new faces – four freshmen and three junior college transfers. Newcomers Bennie Brooks and Ryan Archey, along with senior guard Jeremiah Phifer, combined for 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Columbus State.

UMO launches the season without guard Michael Brown, forward Derreco Miller and senior Darius Spragley. They cannot join the team until the second semester and their appearance on the court will change the team’s dynamic, according to Higginbotham.

“They will impact the way we play tremendously, will improve all facets [of the game],” Higginbotham said. “Right now, we’re pretty deep. I don’t know who to play. I’m writing a different depth chart every day in my book in my office.

“We’ve got young guys who are learning to be a student-athlete at the collegiate level. This is a great opportunity for these young guys to get thrown to the wolves, learn on the fly, make me lose a little more hair.”

Fundamentals, shot selection, movement off the ball and defending the glass have been the focal points of each practice.

Like his previous teams, Higginbotham hopes to create an up-tempo pace, score quick and crash the boards when second-chance opportunities arise. He also wants to see an unselfish style of play on the court.

Developing those characteristics will be crucial.

The Trojans start a 24-game conference slate Nov. 23 at home against newcomer Francis Marion University. They’ll visit Converse, a first-year program, seven days later.

“[The games at Barton] I wouldn’t consider them scrimmages, but they were an opportunity to do some different things and get better for league play, because in all, it’s going to matter what we do in our conference,” Higginbotham said.

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