Warhawks need to finish season strong

Cameron Jett, Editor-in-Chief

With six games remaining in the season, the ULM men’s basketball team soon begins the ultimate test of toughness and character. The Warhawks have been the Sun Belt oddity through the first 12 games in conference action. ULM is the only team in the Sun Belt with a losing record overall (11-14) but a winning conference record (7-5). Even after a loss on Saturday, ULM still has the third-best record in the Sun Belt.

The four games after this Thursday’s meeting with Appalachian State will show how resilient the Warhawks truly are. They have back-to-back-to-back bus rides to Southern Miss, ULL and South Alabama before returning home to face Troy. ULM dropped the first of the season series to all of those teams. ULM’s performance in these games will have huge implications for the SBC Tournament.

The Jamari Blackmon Experience can’t be derailed.

Blackmon proved that he’s arguably the most explosive player offensively in the Sun Belt, with two 35-point games—the highest scoring in a Sun Belt game this season—just a week apart from each other. ULM is 4-0 when Blackmon eclipses his conference average of 18.6 points per game. He averages 22.7 ppg in his seven SBC wins but just 13 ppg in ULM’s five conference losses. Blackmon does most of hisdamage from the comfort of the 3-point line, but he’s able to drive inside and earn trips to the line in most matchups. While he’s lethal one-on one, well-conducted defenses can limit his options. South Alabama brought a near-perfect plan to keep Blackmon’s perimeter shooting contested and made him drive and challenge a center who’s no. 10 nationally in blocks per game. Blackmon brings some serious defensive pressure in a close game. While he might not come away with his own turnovers, fellow guards Tyreke Locure and Langston Powell have been on standby to make offenses worried that they’re a split-second away from playing fastbreak defense.

Bafutto and Howell must win the battle by the basket.

It’s painful to state the obvious, but boxing out and denying offensive rebounds help win more games. Senior forward Victor Baffuto has excelled at keeping traditional big men in check as of late—especially this weekend. Both Coastal Carolina and South Alabama had centers averaging a double-double, and neither recorded more than five rebounds and four points. Sophomore Thomas Howell is a physical forward who has no problem moving through a defender for a basket or tipping a ball toward a teammate. The game against Coastal shows the difference their efforts make. Neither player had a big night scoring, but they forced contested shots and denied offensive rebounds throughout most of the first half. Things changed in the second half when the Chanticleers almost came to life.

Pressure early without fouling.

Richard might be leading one of the most efficient mid-major teams this season. In 12 SBC games, he’s only used more than seven players once. Players like Blackmon, Howell and Locure rarely sub out. Early pressure against Coastal on Thursday let ULM play its brand of basketball. But foul trouble forces Richard to dig through a bench that seldom sees players besides guards Devon Handcock and Savion Gallion check into the game. Foul trouble hasn’t been an issue except in late-game situations where Richard is looking to foul, but earning unnecessary fouls could create a long night for ULM.