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In his first year as head coach of the Patriots, J.T. Burton says the demanding Mid-South Conference schedule was a “real eye-opener” for him. And now, as Burton prepares for his second campaign at St. Catharine, he hopes it is his own team that opens some eyes around the conference and the region.
“You talk about teams that are very good in the half-court, that is what you have with every team in the conference,” said Burton. “Transfer players are important in this conference, ones that can play the tough defense that you need to win.”
Burton, whose Patriots open the season at home tonight at 7 p.m. against Northwestern Ohio, bemoaned the fact that his first-year team was last in the league in nearly every defensive category as they posted a 5-25 overall mark and a 1-11 conference slate. But Burton feels he has shored up his team’s defense, which he hopes will lead to some transition baskets to help the Patriots win some games that got away last year.
“We lost six conference games by eight points or less,” related the Patriot mentor. “That comes down to just three on empty possessions. You can get up and down the court all you want, but you still won’t win if you can’t defend.”
The Patriots welcome back a solid nucleus of four starters who, mixed with some talented D-I transfers, should help the cause on both ends of the court. Arthur Latham will bring averages of 21 points and 11 rebounds back for his senior year. Fellow senior Kevin Owens also averaged a double-double last season at 12 points and 10 boards a game. Junior guard Brandon Johnson (14 ppg) and sophomore guard Terrance Withers (6 ppg) will also return some scoring punch.
The four returning starters will face plenty of competition for playing time from two newcomers from D-I programs. Rainer Rickards (St. Francis) hails from Queens, New York, and will add depth at the forward position. Adam Decker, previously a walk-on at Western Kentucky, will compete for the point guard position as a redshirt freshman.
Another redshirt, junior Ervin Williams (6-9, 215) will give the Patriots some needed bulk inside while junior Kris Caufield, who also redshirted last year, will return to add depth at the point guard position. Toss two juco transfers, Josh Peery (Sheridan CC) and Josh Edwards (Santa Fe CC), into the mix along with freshman Alex Hall, another Queens, NY product, and Burton hopes to have the depth to compete against a rugged schedule.
“We have to be a totally different team than last year,” said Burton. “The players have to be tough because you take a beating in this conference.”
Following tonight’s home opener the Patriots will hit the road for the Zweifl Classsic at Asbury College. Friday night they will play Asbury at 8 p.m. and Saturday they take on Berea at 2 p.m.