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Georgia Southwestern off to program's best start in Division II era

Hurricanes finish November a perfect 7-0

Georgia Southwestern senior Alan Arnett shoots a floater in the lane earlier this season. Arnett, the team's leading scorer, and the Hurricanes have started the season with seven straight wins. (Georgia Southwestern/Special to The Herald)

Georgia Southwestern senior Alan Arnett shoots a floater in the lane earlier this season. Arnett, the team's leading scorer, and the Hurricanes have started the season with seven straight wins. (Georgia Southwestern/Special to The Herald)

AMERICUS — When the Division II Top 25 Coaches’ Poll comes out today, Georgia Southwestern senior Alan Arnett has a pretty good idea where his Hurricanes should stand.

“I think we deserve to be nationally ranked,” Arnett said matter-of-factly on Monday.

And it’s hard to argue with him.

At 7-0, Arnett and the Hurricanes, who received 16 points in last week’s poll, are off to their best start since GSW joined the Division II ranks in 2006 — and with four of the bottom eight teams in last week’s poll losing in the last seven days, there’s a good chance the Hurricanes could crack into the Top 25 for the third time in the last four years.

“(This season) has been very fun. You don’t get too many opportunities like this,” said Arnett, who leads the Hurricanes with 16 points and seven rebounds per game. “We still have the chance to win every game on our schedule, which is something not many college basketball teams can still say.”

The Hurricanes ran the table in the season’s opening month, winning six of their games by single digits and five of them away from home. It was a start that was even a little surprising to head coach Mike Leeder, who is in his eighth year with the team.

“I knew we had a chance to be pretty good,” Leeder said. “But with five of our first six games on the road and all of them against Division II opponents, I wasn’t too sure how much success we would have early on. We slowly started to gain confidence and played better on the road, and hopefully this can carry over.”

GSW is overflowing with confidence after an opening month when the Hurricanes overcame second-half deficits in five of their first six games and then routed Florida National, 98-47, on Friday for a perfect November.

Leading the way for the Hurricanes has been Arnett, a senior from Kokomo, Ind., who has been the team’s high scorer in four games and is near the top in almost every statistical category for the Hurricanes.

“He is a very versatile guy,” Leeder said. “He does a lot of things that don’t go on the stat sheet. He is a tremendous on-the-ball defender, is a good ball handler and a low turnover guy. He is valuable way beyond his scoring.”

But it’s not just Arnett who has gotten the Hurricanes off to a perfect start. Five players average 10 or more points a game for a GSW team that spreads around both the scoring and the praise.

It’s an atmosphere that has turned a team that was predicted to finish sixth in the Peach Belt Conference into one that can’t seem to be slowed down.

“I think the biggest thing working for us is that we are playing together,” Arnett said. “There is a lot of unselfishness that is going on with the team. We are clicking, and we are clicking all as one.

“I think this is the first team I have been a part of with this many players scoring in double figures. We have players that care about their teammates scoring on certain nights more so than themselves scoring.”

Even more impressive is that GSW has been able to do it away from the Storm Dome, where the Hurricanes will host three of their four games before Christmas break, starting with Wednesday’s matchup against Clark Atlanta.

“That tells a lot about us that we have been road warriors almost the whole month of November,” Arnett said. “That’s big for us that we can go on the road and get the job done. Now we need to capitalize on some of this home cooking.”

LADY RAMS START FAST: If the Albany State women’s basketball team is missing April Thomas, it’s hard to tell.

Playing without Thomas — one of the top scorers in the nation who transferred to rival Valdosta State in the offseason — for the first time in three years, the Lady Rams are off to a 4-1 start and are actually averaging 64 points per game, which is two more points they averaged last season even with Thomas’ 20 points a night.

“We are spreading it around and getting input from a lot of different people, and you see more of a team atmosphere more than just one girl carrying the load,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said.

Artisha Holston (15 ppg), Kourtney Alexander (14 ppg), Cordele’s Keidra Green (14 ppg) and former Darton player Amber McKenzie (7 ppg) have paced the Lady Rams, who swept Peach Belt Conference opponents Georgia Southwestern and Columbus State last weekend in the PBC/SIAC Classic — the first time ASU has gone unbeaten in the tournament since it began three years ago.

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Robert Skinner

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April Thomas

A lot of ASU’s early-season success has gone through Holston, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward from Butler who is also averaging 12 rebounds a game.

“I would be crazy if I didn’t say Holston has made the difference,” Skinner said. “She has made a huge difference offensively and defensively. Her presence on the offensive side has made teams make adjustments, and her presence on the defensive side allows us to put more pressure on the ball.”

THOMAS PICKING BACK UP AT VSU: Skinner and the Lady Rams don’t play Valdosta State in the regular season, but Albany State’s long-time coach is still keeping an eye on the Lady Blazers and their new leading scorer.

Thomas hasn’t started in Valdosta State’s first five games because of a preseason injury, but the former Bainbridge star is coming off the bench and leading the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game.

Her 49 field goal attempts are more than anybody else on the team, and she has scorched the net with a field goal percentage of 53.1 and a 3-point percentage of 46.2.

“I kinda figured that would happen,” Skinner said. “I think before the year is over she will probably be starting. That’s just the type of player she is. She will find a way to get into that starting lineup.”