By Dave Wagner
As he looked ahead to tonight’s Lone Star Conference South Division opener against Texas A&M-Commerce, Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball coach Shawn Scanlan wondered just how much of his team would be available.
Senior guard Irshaun Pinckney (ankle) and junior forward Daniel Sherman (back) missed last weekend’s LSC crossover games at Southeastern Oklahoma and East Central, and their status this week remained up in the air.
In addition, senior guard Jamal Washington, who missed the team’s first eight games with a staph infection and last week had considered seeking a medical redshirt, broke his right hand in Saturday’s 83-70 win at ECU and is expected to be out at least 2-3 weeks.
The two-time defending division champion Greyhounds (7-8) begin a stretch of three South games in five nights against Commerce (13-3, 0-1 South) in a 7:30 p.m. tipoff at Greyhound Arena. They host Midwestern State (9-7, 1-0) on Saturday before traveling to rival West Texas A&M (6-9, 0-0) on Monday.
“If they come back it’d be a plus,” Scanlan said of Pinckney and Sherman. “But both have to come back ready to play. It doesn’t do us any good if they’re just 50 percent (healthy).”
Without their injured players, the Hounds are looking at a six-man rotation. Scanlan said he may try to get some floor time out of walk-ons Ean Forrest, Aaron Rodriguez and Jamaine Francois, who have played only a combined 18 minutes this season.
Scanlan said there’s no time to mope about who’s not available to play, adding that the Hounds have to be more efficient with what’s there.
“Our team’s got to do a better job of utilizing its resources,” he said. “We’ve got to get more consistent, quality minutes out of the players we have.
“Truthfully, we have enough talent left (to be successful), but we don’t have much margin for error.”
The Lions lost at Midwestern in their division opener last week, but came back on Saturday for an impressive overtime win at North Division favorite Tarleton State.
“Tarleton’s got a tough team,” Scanlan said. “To go in there and win, there’s no question it’ll be a confidence-builder for them.”
ENMU’s women (6-8, 0-1), looking at the same three-games-in-five-days schedule as the men, are adjusting to life without senior guard Laci Lee, who will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Without her, the Zias have gone 1-4 — but they’ve been competitive in every game. Juniors Riikka Lehtonen and Ashley Davidson both started for the first time and were factors in Saturday’s 47-44 victory at East Central, and Portales freshman Erika Cook saw her first extended action on last week’s trip and gave the team some good minutes.
“We’ve got to have people continue to step up and play well,” Zias acting head coach Dustin Klafka said. “And the kids that are supposed to play well for us have to play well.”
Commerce and Midwestern (both 6-9, 1-1) have already completed their season series, each winning at home. The Lions have struggled in recent years, but have one of the South’s better players in senior guard Hazel Woods while third-year coach Denny Dowling is hoping a bevy of transfers can help get the program going.
“This is probably the best overall group he’s had,” Klafka said. “They’re very capable of beating anybody. They’re as athletic a team as we’ll see.”
MSU finished fifth in the South last year, losing two nail-biters to the Zias while splitting with each of the other top teams.
There are no cupcakes on the South schedule, Klafka said.
“Everybody’s good, to us,” he said. “If we don’t show up to play and play hard, we’re not going to give ourselves a chance.”