There are two words that send shivers down the spines of ULM fans, "Road Game". After a sound win at home vs Denver last Wednesday night, the Warhawks couldn't get it done vs North Texas in the Cajun Dome. Louisiana-Monroe just simply ran out of gas in a 77-71 overtime defeat to the Mean Green.
Early on it looked like ULM might break the dreaded road game jinx. The game was back and forth until the warhawks surged ahead by 12 points at the break. Although ULM was not shooting the ball well, neither was their opponent. For the half, the warhawks shot 26% from 3pt range on 5/19 shooting.
North Texas would come out in the second half fired up on the defensive end. Sloppy ball handling and turnovers by ULM led to easy fast break layups for UNT. Before Louisiana-Monroe fans knew it, the halftime lead was cut in half. UNT would keep the defensive intesity up and continue to rotate fresh bodies against the smaller Warhawks.
ULM had a chance to win the game in regulation but Tony Hooper slipped and never got a shot off. Dont blame Tony though, the court was as slick as ice in most spots. In the overtime period the Warhawks could only muster 1/8 field goals. North Texas didn't shoot much better at 3/7, but they converted 8/10 free throws. For ULM players and fans it would be a long drive back to Monroe, but certainly nothing to hold our heads about.
Before the 2006 ULM Men's basketball team ever stepped foot on the court, they were given little hope. The SBC media panel picked the Warhawks to finish as the leagues worst team. Short in stature but not in heart, this ULM team decided they would prove everyone wrong.
Finishing with a 18-14 record and 11-7 in conference is way beyond what anyone could have predicted. In thier first year as conference members, the Warhawks captured the SBC West Divsion title. Playing as a team and checking ego' at the door, this ULM team did not have one superstar player. Each night it would be someone different leading the Warhawks to victory.
As the season wore on, the fans started to notice and so did the media. Shortly after that, the awards began to pour in. Tony Hooper was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-District 8 Second Team. The very next day head coach Orlando Early was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year. Tony Hooper would pick up another award when he was named to the leagues all conference 3rd team.
Last but not least ULM holds the nation's current 10th longest home court winning streak. As bad as Louisiana-Monroe was on the road, they were untouchable at home. A sparkling 14-0 home record was something no other conference team could boast about.
Through ULM's first five home games, you could hear a pin drop in Fant-Ewing. The Warhawks were averaging a dismal 437 fans per home contest. That all seemed to change on December 30th when ULL came to town. Over the course of the final nine home games ULM would average 2,793 a contest. On January 27th, a season high 4,229 packed the house to watch ULM defeat Troy 91-78.
Expectations will be riding high come November for this ULM baskeball team. The Warhawks will not be losing one single starter on the roster. Jordan Payne, Lance Brasher, Tony Hooper, Afam Nweke, and Jonas Brown will all be back to defend their Western Division title.
The Warhawks will also get a boost when they get starting point gaurd Brandon Roberts back. A true point gaurd, Brandon will take back his role of keeping the offense running. Doing so will allow shooters like Brown and Hooper do what they do best...light it up.
Rebounding is something ULM will need to improve on as well. The Warhawks did a good job this year with what they had but next year things will get a lot easier. Orlando Early has been hot on the recruiting trail and realed in some beef to clog the middle. The 2006 recruiting class includes, Rudy Turner from Peabody, Mitchell Hampton from Ouachita, Hugh Mingo from West Monroe, and Sei Paye from Strake Jesuit College Prep in Houston.
Raphael "Rudy" Turner is a big 6'8 260 pound Center that will instantly provide relief on the boards. The same can be said for 6'7 power foward Mitchell Hampton. Something that ULM desperatly needs are shot blockers or shot contesters. Both of these big men should see minutes next season and when given the chance will impress.
The Warhawks also picked up a sharp shooter in Sei Paye. The word is this kid can flat out burn it up from 3pt range. The same can be said for SG Hugh Mingo from West Monroe. Hugh can turn on the jets when he needs to. The future is now for ULM and its going to be an exciting ride so get on board. I can hear the Hawks Nest already..Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, Rudy.