Playing basketball at Kennesaw State hasn’t always been enjoyable for seniors Yonel Brown and Nigel Pruitt.
In four years, they’ve had three coaches and a few systems to learn. As a result, they experienced 19 wins and 74 losses in their first three years.
This season, their final in college, basketball is enjoyable again.
The Owls (9-18) are coming off a weekend sweep of Atlantic Sun leaders North Florida and Jacksonville, their first since the 2010-11 season. The Owls are 5-6 in the Atlantic Sun, their most conference wins since 2010-11.
“I’m having so much fun right now,” said Brown, the team’s leading scorer at 18.9 points per game.
The Owls aren’t done. They perch two games behind a trio of teams tied at the top. If the Owls win their remaining three games, beginning Thursday at Stetson, there’s a chance they could finish tied for first heading into the conference tournament.
If they don’t win the conference, they could still finish among the top four and earn the right to host a game in the eight-team conference tournament.
“We’re focusing on trying to play well toward the end and get a ring,” said Pruitt, who is averaging 8.2 points per game.
The seniors say the difference between past years and this year can be found in coach Al Skinner, his first year with the Owls.
The former Big East Coach of the Year has brought a professionalism that Brown and Pruitt say they enjoy. They no longer worry about getting yelled at when they make mistakes. Instead, Skinner keeps things simple and tells the players how to correct their error and then moves on.
Pruitt said during games Skinner expects the players to coach themselves before he steps in. They appreciate the approach.
“He gives you confidence,” Pruitt said.
Skinner told the players when they started practicing that they would improve month to month, which is something Brown said they believe in.
After a brutal non-conference schedule during which the Owls went 4-12 with losses to Alabama. LSU, Arizona State, West Virginia, Louisville and Indiana, the team did start get better during conference play.
Pruitt said the ball movement on offense has improved since the beginning of the season. The team had 21 assists in the victory against Jacksonville to finish with a regular-season home record of 8-6, matching its most wins at the Convocation Center since 2009-10. Though they are averaging a league-worst 72.1 points per game in all games, they are averaging 79.4 points per game in conference play, third-best in the league.
The players have learned to trust each other with their switches on defense. Undersized against most opponents, they have the fifth-best defense (78.4 points per game) among teams in the conference in all games and fourth-best in conference games (79.5).
They will need to continue their good play in the conference tournament.
The Owls were hammered by South Carolina-Upstate 90-54 in their first game in last year’s tournament, something they haven’t forgotten.
“It would mean so much to win a game in the tournament, but I wouldn’t’ be satisfied with just one win,” Brown said. “We showed this week that we can play at the highest level and we want to continue to show that and carry it on in the tournament.”
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