rollin’ with tolin
If this is a dream, it’s likely Kyle Tolin and his now No. 22-ranked University of Arkansas at Monticello men’s basketball Boll Weevils never want to wake up. After two more victories last week, UAM has established a new school record for best start to a season at 10-0.
Thursday, the Weevils matched the 9-0 beginning to a season Mike Newell’s 2008-09 squad accomplished with a 74-61 win over Southern Nazarene University. Saturday, this year’s team put that mark in its rear-view mirror with a 74-54 triumph over Oklahoma Baptist University.
A side benefit to the streak is that UAM, one of only six teams still undefeated in all of NCAA Division II, sits alone atop the GAC standings at 6-0—not bad for a club picked 12th (and last) in mid-October 2016 by the league’s coaches in their preseason poll. The six conference wins already equal the best performance in either of Tolin’s first two seasons in Monticello.
And, with last year’s club finishing its season by defeating Oklahoma Baptist, the Weevils set a new GAC best for consecutive wins by a men’s basketball team. The 11 consecutive wins bests both Harding University, which put together a 10-game winning streak during the 2012-13 season, and Ouachita Baptist University, which did the same last year.
Ironically, a victory Thursday over Harding in the final contest of a five-game home stand at Steelman Field House would stand the Weevils alone with the longest single-season men’s basketball winning streak in the now six-year-old GAC. Another school record is in sight, too—the 14-game unbeaten streak achieved by both the 1959-60 Weevils, under Leslie Beard, and the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association National Runner-up 1985-86 squad, under Gary Sharpe.
What makes this winning streak even more impressive is that just two players (in reality, just one because one was redshirted last season) remain from 2015-16. Tolin revamped his entire roster, bringing in recruits from California to Florida for a new beginning to his third season as head Weevil.
“There’s 72 years of basketball history here,” said Tolin, smiling from ear to ear after Saturday’s win, “and to be able to have some kind of record is a neat deal. It’s taken a little bit but that’s what I envisioned when got here. We’re fortunate to get to add to the history of UAM basketball today.”
The streak almost didn’t happen, though. Saturday’s game, for the most part, was never in doubt but on Thursday, UAM trailed at the half by nine points and looked to be on the ropes against Southern Nazarene.
Outscoring the Crimson Storm by 22 points after intermission, however, kept the streak alive and set up Saturday’s record-breaking contest. Against Tolin’s alma mater and the place he coached 10 years with his father, Hall of Famer Doug Tolin, the Weevils again took a while to get started but when junior Tyrin Jones tied the game for the last time at 30 all with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first half, UAM used that as a springboard to grab its 10th straight victory.
“I won’t give a ‘coach’ answer,” Tolin said when asked about breaking the record against the school where he spent much of his life. “We did a lot of good things (at Oklahoma Baptist) and I don’t know if people there quite appreciate what we did. To be able to come (to UAM) and get it going—and them not be able to get it going a little bit—to beat them, it makes it even more sweet, to be 100 percent honest with you.”
Senior Vicktor Arnick, the lone Weevil to play a part in all 11 victories, led UAM in scoring against Oklahoma Baptist with 17 points. Junior Derylton Hill, who earned his third GAC Player of the Week honors last week, was held to 12 points after torching Southern Nazarene for 30.
Hill’s classmates, Karin Mawuenyega and Cobe Goosby, also reached double figures. Mawuenyega netted 15 and Goosby chipped in with 12.
“Part of it is getting an understanding for the game,” Tolin noted of his team’s slow starts in both games. “We hadn’t played them before; we’d just seen them on film. This week, for sure, we were better in the second half. And it’s a good thing we were.
“(Oklahoma Baptist) played zone; they weren’t going to play (Hill) man-to-man. It happened in the Delta State game, too (a 10-point win over the then-No. 23 Statesmen on Nov. 27, 2016). They weren’t going to let Derylton win.
“It was fine in that game (Delta State) because other guys stepped up—and it was the same thing today. Vic had more open shots, Karim got to the rim a little bit more because they were so concerned about Derylton. Derylton did a good job of passing the ball, finding the open guys and letting them score.”
Thursday, Southern Nazarene gave UAM quite a scare. The Weevils could not get untracked in the first 20 minutes, as evidenced by Hill’s four points at intermission.
“I thought we played out of character in the first half,” Tolin said Thursday. “We tried to go do it ourselves on the offensive end. That isn’t how we have played through eight games.
“We told them at halftime that it didn’t look like our team. We knew we didn’t play well in the first half. Southern Nazarene is too good to go beat them by ourselves. We needed to more ball, cut sharper and trust each other more and I thought we did that in the second half.”
After not sniffing a lead at any time during almost the first 29 minutes of the 40-minute contest, UAM pulled even at 45-45 when Hill completed a fast break with a layup at the 12:13 mark. Arnick gave UAM the lead for good with a made three-point shot some two minutes later and, from that point, the Weevils outscored Southern Nazarene 26-8 to get back on track.
Following Hill’s 30 points, Jones netted 14 and Goosby chipped in with 10 as UAM remained perfect. Overall, Tolin said he was pleased with the effort against the Crimson Storm.
“We have a really good competitive group of kids,” the third-year coach noted. “The positive thing with (the Southern Nazarene) game is we had been there before where we didn’t play as well we are capable and have come back.
“That was the message at halftime—we have been here before, we didn’t play as well but now its time to go do it.”
The coach said the last two games should help his players through the rest of the season, because it’s certainly doesn’t get any easier—at least in the short term.
After the Harding game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against the defending GAC champions who should finally be at full strength with the return of academically ineligible players, UAM heads out on a stretch where five of its next six games are on the road.
“It’s now to the point of where we’ve got to get better,” Tolin said. “Our goal is to get better every week. We’ve got to understand, just like the first 30 minutes of our game (against Southern Nazarene), every game is going to be like that now. We’ve got to be ready to go, for sure.”