By Dave Wagner
No one has ever questioned Jamaal Hunnicutt’s “want-to” with the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward from Amarillo came to ENMU in 2001 and promptly helped the Greyhounds reach the Lone Star Conference postseason tournament for the first time in five years. That was followed by back-to-back LSC South Division titles and, last season, the school’s first berth in the NCAA Division II tournament since 1993.
He’s playing as hard and as well as ever this season, but the results are disappointing. ENMU, which has lost seven key members of its original roster for all or long parts of the season, carries an 8-13 overall record and 1-5 South mark into games at Abilene Christian today and at Angelo State on Saturday.
Hunnicutt, the South’s current player of the week, is averaging 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, and those numbers have gone up to 22.0 and 9.3, respectively, in division play. He leads the team in field goal percentage (55.5), assists (62), blocks (16) and steals (47).
But the Hounds have lost four South games by seven points or less, including one in overtime. They’re trying to make a run at a top-four berth in the South and a spot in the LSC’s postseason tournament, but have much work to do.
“Statistically I’m having my best year, but it’s probably the worst record I’ve had in high school or college,” Hunnicutt said. “I’m just trying to do everything I can to help the team, but it seems like we keep coming up short.
“Just a lot of crazy things have happened this year. We’re trying to finish on a good note.”
ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan admits he leans on Hunnicutt a little more than he’d like — simply because he needs him to play at the top of his game every night.
“He’s lived up to someone who can do that, and he’s doing it,” Scanlan said. “I can’t ask for a whole lot more.”
Hunnicutt said he understands and accepts the situation.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me,” he said. “I know I really have to do a lot more because we’re missing a lot of people.
“I never thought in a million years this would happen. I get frustrated a lot, but coach tells me to keep my head up. Ever since Christmas I’ve been trying to take a more positive attitude.”
Scanlan said the Hounds are hopeful they can regain the services this weekend of senior guard Irshaun Pinckney, who has missed the past eight games with a hairline fracture in his leg. That would provide some much-needed depth.
“If we get back any semblance of the old Irshaun, it’ll really help us,” he said. “I’m concerned about him as much on defense as anything. We’re going to need about a 75 percent Irshaun, at least, to have the kind of impact we need.”
The ENMU women (9-12, 3-5), also striving to reach the top four, face two of the division’s top three teams this weekend on the road.
ACU (14-6, 5-2 South) built a 22-point, first-half lead last week, then fell behind late before recovering to nip the Zias 76-73.
“I do think they (Zias) have a lot of confidence going into the Abilene game,” acting ENMU women’s coach Dustin Klafka said. “Abilene came out aggressive on the offensive end (last week), but we can’t allow them to do that in their gym.”
Klafka said the Zias plan to gear their defense against nationally-ranked ASU (18-2, 6-1) around the Rambelles’ 6-foot-3 senior standout, Natalja Tsurbakova.
“With a team like that, you just have to pick your poison,” he said. “We can’t just play well (to beat ASU) — we’re going to have to play real well.”
All Times MST
What: ENMU (8-13, 1-5) at Abilene Christian (8-14, 1-6), 7 p.m. Thursday, and at Angelo State (9-13, 2-5), 7 p.m. Saturday, in Lone Star Conference South Division games.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
Of note: Due to personnel losses, minutes for ENMU’s key players have gone up noticeably since the start of division play. Junior G Jolen Montoya is tied for the league lead with an average of 38.83 minutes per game in division contests, having played 233 of a possible 245 minutes (including one overtime game). Senior F Jamaal Hunnicutt (38.0) and junior G Reggie Wallace (35.17) are also in the top 10. … The Hounds are second in the LSC in scoring during division play (78.7), followed closely by ACU (77.9) and ASU (77.0). But the teams rank at the bottom in points allowed — ENMU 12th (82.9), ASU 13th (84.9) and ACU 14th (94.9). … Prior to Saturday’s 80-76 loss to ASU at Greyhound Arena, ENMU had beaten the Rams five consecutive times. The Hounds are 3-0 at ASU’s Junell Center, which opened in January 2002. … Angelo State senior G Kenny Smith, who went 6-for-9 from 3-point range against the Hounds last week, has 133 career 3-pointers and is six short of the school record. With 69 this year, he’s 13 away from the single-season school mark. He’s shooting 47.9 percent from long range for the season, ranking him ninth in NCAA Division II.
What: ENMU (9-12, 3-5) at Abilene Christian (14-6, 5-2), 5 p.m. Thursday, and as Angelo State (18-2, 6-1), 5 p.m. Saturday, in Lone Star Conference South Division games.
Radio: KSEL-AM 1450.
Of note: After surviving a tight game at ENMU on Thursday, ACU was outscored 28-8 at the free throw line on Saturday and lost at West Texas A&M 80-55. … ACU junior G Ashley King had four 3-pointers on Saturday at WT to move into a tie for the school’s career record in that department with 175. She was 1-fo-4 from long range last week against the Zias. … With wins over ENMU at WT last week, Angelo took over the division lead and maintained its spot at No. 9 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II national poll. … Abilene Christian is 9-1 at home this season, while Angelo is 6-1. Since the opening of the Junell Center, the Rambelles have gone 37-5 on their home court. … With the rout of ACU, WT coach Bob Schneider earned his 600th victory as a women’s college coach. He’s in his 24th season as the Lady Buffaloes’ coach after spending three years at Texas Woman’s.