Getting off to a hot start in Southwestern Athletic Conference play might be an understatement for what the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions have done. A historic start under UAPB Head Coach George Ivory in his 10th season at the helm of the men's basketball program is more like it.
Since 2008, the Golden Lions haven't ever started off 7-0 in SWAC play. In 2010, the Golden Lions won the SWAC tournament as a two seed, after finishing the regular season with a 14-4 conference record.
Ivory spoke on the understanding that the guys have with each other, and how they know where they are and where they're trying to go.
"This is the best start that we've ever had since I've been here," Ivory said. "I think the guys have a very humble approach and a great understanding of what we’re trying to do. Anybody can beat you on any night, and we're staring to be consistent from night to night."
The Golden Lions solidified their legitimacy in their past two games out in Texas against Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. PVA&M and Texas Southern aren't right there in the middle of the pack behind UAPB and Jackson State, but anytime teams go out there it's hard to win.
For example, before UAPB took down Texas Southern 74-72 their last home loss was in February of 2015, and their home winning streak was at 27. For the past few years, Texas Southern has been a perennial power in the SWAC, winning the conference tournament three out the past four years.
Ivory has set the status for his team as championship caliber, and he talked about how things have been fitting.
"We had two tough games out in Texas," Ivory said. "It's been very difficult for anybody to beat the Texas schools. I thought the team played very well, and they never quit. We're a better team than last year. We have a different group of guards and the chemistry is there. We have the guys that are a year older in the program and they've been very instrumental. The way we're built we have a pretty good chance to win the championship."
The Golden Lions are sitting at No.1 in the SWAC standings, and they have the SWAC's leading scorer at 19.5 ppg, junior guard Martaveous McKnight. This week, McKnight received his third SWAC player of the week honor of the season after scoring 39 points to lead UAPB over PVA&M and hitting a dagger three pointer to ultimately end Texas Southern's home winning streak.
"He's such a great basketball player and he's unselfish," Ivory said of McKnight. "The guys understand what he's done to get to the position of being our go-to guy. The thing with McKnight is he may turn down a good shot to get others involved in the game. He's a very humble guy."
"You look at Charles Jackson, and we've been looking for him to be a big time scorer," Ivory continued. "Trent Steen down low and Travon Harper can score as well. They have time under their belts, and they understand what we want from them. Joe'Rnadle Tolliver can really shoot it. They're all really playing well together."
Now that the Golden Lions are at the top, everyone under them will be gunning for them. Ivory and his guys are well aware of that, and they just want to stay in the moment and not get ahead of themselves.
"What we've been talking about is staying focused, humble and taking one game at a time," Ivory said. "Our ultimate goals are to win the championship and SWAC tourney. When you're in first everybody is out to get you, so we’re humble about it."
The Golden Lions’ next four games will all be at home at H.O. Clemmons Arena, and Ivory believes they can really pull away if they handle their business.
"One thing about it, when we play at home in these four games it can put us in a good situation in the conference," Ivory said. "Our fan base has been supportive, and being at home is comfortable for all of us.”