Friday, November 11, 2016

Claflin University Men’s Basketball 2016-17 Preview

Panthers Opens Season Friday at UNC-Wilmington

ORANGEBURG, South Carolina -- When Ricky Jackson took over the Claflin University men's basketball program three years ago, it provided the veteran coach an opportunity to restore a winning tradition.

Jackson elected to implement a plan centered on building a solid foundation through a yearly process. Each season, the strategy would show signs of improvement, especially in the win column.

"That was our goal," Jackson said. "We wanted to establish a foundation for the future so the program would be competitive year after year."

"We could've taken a different approach and won right away. But the question was, how long would it last? We felt the program needed some type of stability for the future in order to be successful down the road. The goal is to win 20 or more games each season and work toward a championship."

The program is heading in that direction after three years under Jackson's guidance.

After winning just 10-of-29 games the first season the Panthers' win-total increased the following year to 16-13.

Claflin made even more progress last season, finishing with another 16-13 record, but was in the mix for the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference East Division. The Panthers finished tied for second place in the division along with Morehouse at 10-8, a game behind champion Benedict.

It was in the conference tournament where the Panthers gained some attention. Jackson's team came within a basket of playing for the SIAC Championship. Claflin took LeMoyne-Owen to the limit in the semifinals before falling 71-70 overtime.

If last season's championship run wasn't enough indication that the program is turning the corner, it received a vote of confidence in SIAC preseason polls. The league head coaches and sports information directors selected Claflin to challenge Benedict for the East Division title. The Panthers received 78 points, two behind preseason favorite Benedict, which collected 80. Claflin also garnered four first-place votes to six for Benedict.

The preseason accolades did not stop there asTop of Form redshirt-sophomore Austin Lawton was named the SIAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He joined senior Ryan McNeill-Moses on the All-Conference team.

"The preseason honors are a testament of how much the program has grown," Jackson said. "A lot can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of our players from the last three seasons.

"This is the first time since I've been here, we've been selected that high (preseason poll) along with two players on the preseason All-Conference team. We welcome the challenge for the upcoming season."

Lawton, the 2015-16 SIAC Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 7.0 rebounds a game last season, which ranked sixth in the conference. The 6-9 center from Eutawville, S.C. also averaged 7.9 points and posted five double-doubles. He led the conference in blocks (2.9 per game), good enough for eighth in the NCAA Division II rankings.

McNeill-Moses, a 6-4 senior forward from Washington, D.C. averaged 9.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and three assists per outing.

In the conference, McNeill-Moses finished the season tied for second in defensive rebounds and fifth in field goal percentages.

Beside Lawton and McNeill-Moses, the Panthers return the catalyst of the team in sophomore point guard Triston Thompson. The 5-9 Washington, D.C. native averaged 5.8 points and dished out 3.6 assists per game.

Also back is senior Trevor Dantzler of Mullins, S.C. The 5-11 shooting guard is top returning three-pointer with 34 three-point field goals.

Leading a group of outstanding newcomers will be three junior transfers: 5-8 guard Tyler Thompson (twin brother of Triston Thompson) and 6-7 forward Awwal Reid from West Virginia State; and Albert Miller, a 5-8 guard, that played at USC-Aiken.

"The upcoming season will be interesting," Jackson said. "We have some productive pieces returning along with a good group of newcomers who should contribute right away.

"We will be bigger this season with some good perimeter shooters and added depth. The key for us will be developing team chemistry during the non-conference portion of our schedule. That will be very important, especially heading into conference play."

Claflin schedule will consist of a visit to NCAA Division I foe UNC-Wilmington of the Colonial Athletic Conference. The contest will be the Panthers' season-opener on Friday, Nov. 11th.

The Panthers will make their home debut Tuesday, Nov. 15, against Francis Marion. Claflin will be at home for six of its next eight games, including homecoming versus Fayetteville State University (Saturday, Nov. 19).

"We've put together a competitive and tough non-conference schedule," Jackson said. "That portion of our schedule will enable us to be mentally challenged by playing in hostile environments on the road and preparing for SIAC play."

Other non-league opponents for the Panthers include Augusta State, St. Augustine's, Limestone and Livingstone and Shaw in the Shaw University Tournament Dec. 28-29 in Raleigh, N.C.

The Panthers opens SIAC competition with three straight home games Central State (Nov. 29), Kentucky State (Dec. 1) and Lane College (Dec. 3).


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