CHEYENNE—After close to a three-and-a-half week break, the Laramie County Community College men’s basketball team returns to action tonight.
While not a perfect start to the 2023 campaign, the Golden Eagles have found themselves in prime position and look to build on some of the successes they had in the first half of its season.
“I’m pretty happy with our season right now,” LCCC coach DeWayne Saulsberry said. “We have definitely had more up than down. I am excited for the second half of the season.”
LCCC started its 2023 campaign at .500 before rattling off three consecutive wins to improve to 5-2 on the young season.
But a four-game road trip following Thanksgiving gave the Eagles some trouble, where they lost three of their next four games. They did, however, manage to close the first half of the season on a high note, rattling off dominant wins over Lamar and Otero to improve to 8-5 heading into the Christmas break.
The Eagles have been very strong throughout the season on both offense and defense. The team’s 82.2 points per game and 45.5% shooting percentage through its first 13 games currently ranks third in Region IX North. LCCC also possesses the best 3-point shooting attack in the division, averaging a 35.6% from the field.
While the offense has been good, the defense has been solid as well. They are allowing teams just 76.7 points per game on 45.4% shooting from the field. They also allow teams a second-lowest 30.1% from behind the arc.
The biggest reason for the team’s success, by far, has been the play of sophomores Xavier McCord and Tristan Starks. Starks has been a major addition to the Eagle’s lineup. Since coming over from Southwestern Assemblies of God University, Starks has become the team’s best scoring threat. He currently averages a team-high 17.8 points per game.
McCord, who was one of LCCC’s best players the past two seasons, currently averages 14.6 points per game. He also leads the team with 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
“The team feeds off their confidence,” Saulsberry said. “... Both of those guys believe in themselves, and our team is feeding off of that.”
Starks and McCord have not been doing it by themselves. Freshmen Brandon Tchouya and Jordan Reed have provided minutes and scoring for the Eagles, averaging 11.5 and 10 points per game, respectively.
The duo has provided a third and fourth scoring option to the team that has allowed LCCC to weather the storm if both Starks and McCord.
The biggest surprise for the Eagles this season has been the play of freshman forwards Raymond Ezike and Abdullah Mahamed. Saulsberry said he thought they would be really coming into their own late in the season, but was pleasantly surprised to see them playing so well early in the year.
But not everything went perfect for the Eagles in the first half of their season. Free Throws, in particular, were a big problem.
LCCC averaged just 63.4% from the free-throw line during the first 13 games of its season. That number puts the Golden Eagles in dead last in their division by nearly three percentage points.
“You can’t close out basketball games shooting as poorly as we have shot from the free-throw line,” Saulsberry said. “As tough as we have played, if we can’t clean that up, those things are going to come back and bite us.”
Saulsberry believes part of the reason for some struggles were due to playing nine of the first 13 games on the road. With being able to play most of its remaining games at home, LCCC will have an opportunity to build on its overall success of the first half of the season.
“It is difficult to get on the bus night after night and drive three or four hours to play a basketball game,” Saulsberry said. “It is going to be very huge and, hopefully, we can get onto a good roll.”
Looking ahead to the second half of the season, LCCC finds itself in a good position to build momentum heading into the Region IX tournament. But first, it must get through a tough part of its schedule.
The Eagles reopen play against Otero, who they beat before the break, but will have to play on the road. They then have to move on to play the No. 4 team in the country in Salt Lake Community College and a tough opponent in Trinidad State.
After its four-game road trip, LCCC will play six of its final 10 games at home.
“We need to be playing our best basketball over these next three games, and trying to get better,” Saulsberry said. “We need to be competing and playing our best basketball to try to get ourselves ready to head into conference play.”