Southeastern stifling opponents
HAMMOND, La. -- Forget about the ball handler. What the Southeastern Louisiana Lions have been doing without the basketball this season has been the most impressive aspect of their game.
"We're buying into what coach says," Lions center Nate Lofton said. "We have the most fun playing defense, rather than scoring."
Southeastern already has held two teams below 40 points, most recently with a 54-33 defeat of Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.
"I don't care if you're at Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, it doesn't get any better than that on the defensive end," says coach Billy Kennedy, who has overseen Southeastern's ascension from the lower echelons of the Southland Conference.
On average, the Lions are allowing only 54 points per game -- one of the best points-allowed averages among Division I teams nationwide.
"We've got a lot of guys who can go out and score a lot of points, but we take pride in defense," Lions sophomore point guard Terry Bryant. "That's what makes us kind of special, and we're trying to build something special here."
And no team has scored more than 65 points against Southeastern.
"Southeastern at this point in time seems to be a cut above everybody" in the Southland Conference, SFA coach Danny Kaspar said. "Their defense, in my opinion, is what makes them stand out. As a coach I'm enjoying what I'm seeing), even though my team is getting pummeled."
When Kennedy arrived in Hammond five seasons ago, he took over a Southeastern program that had posted one winning season in the previous 15.
Last season was the Lions' first 20-victory season (20-9) as a Division I school. They won a three-way share of the Southland title before losing in the conference semifinals to Texas-San Antonio. This season, Southeastern is 16-6 so far, 8-1 in the Southland Conference.
Ricky Woods leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game, and the 6-foot-10 Lofton has been a prime factor in the Lions' turnaround.
He was named Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year last season after averaging 13.2 points and 10.9 rebounds as a junior.
This season, Lofton, who played for Rabouin High School in New Orleans, averages 12.1 points and 6.6 rebounds while leading the team with 37 blocked shots.
In addition, Kennedy considers Lofton the second-best passer he's ever coached behind former California Bear and current New Jersey Nets point guard Jason Kidd.
"Nate's a special player," Kennedy said. "All the things that aren't in the stat sheet, he does. He's definitely a difference-maker. That's why we win games."
That along with relentless team defense.
"I'm proud of our guys for buying into it, and it's contagious right now," Kennedy said. "We've just got to maintain it."
Information from: The Daily Star, http://www.hammondstar.com
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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