Schuck's Clipboard

HLGU basketball team's rare success creates excitement

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 20, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Feb. 20, 2019 1:16 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Have you heard of this thing called Trojan fever?

It's sweeping across the Hannibal-LaGrange University campus and filtering out to the rest of the American Midwest Conference schools. It invades Anderson Arena Thursday night on the William Woods University campus in Fulton, Mo., where a bus full of HLGU students hope to create somewhat of a home-court atmosphere for the HLGU men's basketball team.

The Trojans are in a three-way tie for second place in the AMC with William Woods and Park. Already guaranteed a spot in the AMC Tournament for the first time since the 2014-2015 season, the Trojans are on the verge of their highest regular-season finish since being the tournament's third seed in 1998-99.

The fervor it has created has everyone's temperature rising.

"Usually this time of the year, we're done," HLGU coach Jason Durst said. "The last three years, we knew we weren't going to make the postseason. Now, we've put ourselves in a position where games have significance. It's nice to have games mean something, so we have to enjoy it and take advantage of it."

The Trojans understand heightened expectations come with it, too.

"It's a good stress, but it's a different stress," Durst said. "It's definitely still stressful, but it gives you a little bit of a different feeling."

That's called swagger.

Sitting with a 14-6 record in AMC play, the Trojans will finish above .500 in conference play for the first time since going 8-7 in the 2008-09 season. At 16-9 overall, the Trojans are guaranteed a winning season. The last time that happened? It took place before HLGU's online archives were created.

Let's just say it's been a while.

"They can look and see what we've done in the past," said Durst, who has been the HLGU head coach for 14 seasons. "But when I recruit people, I always tell them our record isn't an indication of how competitive we are. We typically always play people tough. Now we're in a position where the toughness and competitive nature has allowed us to win games.

"It's been a complete flip-flop of circumstances. We'd be down by three or four points late and lose by four or five points. Now we're up by three or four points and win it by four or five points."

It's helps to have a closer or two.

Sophomore guard Brady Smith is averaging 21.2 points, which ranks seventh in the NAIA. Senior forward Tyrone Hueitt Jr. is averaging 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds, and he ranks in the top 10 nationally with 63 blocked shots.

"The guys we returned have been good for us, good on the court and good leaders," Durst said. "The new guys come in, and that's what they follow. It's matter of having the right guys be our leaders and the right guys who can follow that leadership."

And guys who are determined to win.

"They didn't want a repeat of what happened last year," Durst said. "They've been pretty vocal about this being a fresh start and taking advantage of it."

Everyone is getting the message.

"We're not doing anything different in terms of structure or system," Durst said. "Our team chemistry is better. Our overall work ethic is better, and we just have a tougher group of guys."