"We want to go in and try to win the tournament, and advance to the NCAA tournament," UAPB Head Coach George Ivory said. "I think they've accomplished a lot, anytime you come in and were picked 8th in the league and end up being the No. 1 seed you're happy with that. But we do want to win that SWAC tournament, and we're going to give it our all."
A blackout is being promoted by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions' athletics department for the first round game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament at 7:30 p.m. tonight at H.O. Clemmons Arena at UAPB.
"We want the best crowd we can get, and we are pushing for all of the UAPB fans to come out in their black gear for a blackout," UAPB Sports Information said.
The No. 1 UAPB Golden Lions get the luxury of hosting a first-round game at home after earning the top seed over the weekend. UAPB blew past the Mississippi State Delta Devils on senior night 94-57. Although they lost that regular-season finale, MVSU finished as the No. 8 seed, meaning they would earn a quick turnaround date with the Golden Lions.
Tonight, the Delta Devils will make their way back in H.O. Clemmons Arena, but this time the loser's season will be over as the winner will advance to the semi-final rounds in Houston, Texas.
Although the Grambling State University Tigers officially claimed the out-right SWAC regular season championship, it was known before the season that they would have to serve a post-season ban. The ban stems from them being academically ineligible. Therefore, UAPB earned the No. 1 seed, and Golden Lions Head Coach George Ivory knew his team had a good chance at getting it all along.
"We thought we had a great opportunity if we won a couple more games to get that one seed," Ivory said. "We knew if it came down to a tiebreaker we would win the position. We knew all year that Grambling wouldn't be able to go to the tournament. With that, we knew we had a great chance and we just had to keep playing."
Without a doubt, the Golden Lions handled their end of the bargain by running Valley out of the gym. UAPB shot 51 percent from the field, and four Golden Lions scored in double figures.
"I thought the guys came out and played good Saturday night with great focus," Ivory said. "We came back to practice and made sure we're on the same page to take care of business on Tuesday. I thought we came out and played great defense — played with a lot of intensity and emotion."
Monday, the SWAC handed out post-season awards, and UAPB junior guard Martaveous McKnight racked up multiple honors. McKnight finished the regular season averaging 18.5 points per game while finishing fifth in assists with 3.5 per game. For his highly productive season, McKnight was awarded the SWAC Player of the Year honor and the SWAC New Comer of the Year honor.
UAPB senior Trent Steen was named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year. McKnight was named a member of the All-SWAC first team, and Steen was selected to the All-SWAC second team.
"We were glad to see those guys win those awards," Ivory said. "They've worked hard all year and we're proud of them. Now we have to keep working hard going forward, but we're very happy for them."
Now with the SWAC tournament on deck, a tournament championship is what the Golden Lions are chasing. When Ivory was asked if it was championship or bust, he didn't want to downplay what they've done already this season. However, he made it clear that they're surely going to try to win it all, and they believe they have a good chance of doing so.
"We want to go in and try to win the tournament, and advance to the NCAA tournament," Ivory said. "I think they've accomplished a lot, anytime you come in and were picked 8th in the league and end up being the No. 1 seed you're happy with that. But we do want to win that SWAC tournament, and we're going to give it our all."