Gulf South Conference play begins tonight for the University of West Georgia men's basketball team and it may have to go without its top scorer.
The Wolves tip league play in an 8 p.m. matchup when they head up to in-state rival Shorter for a late November showdown.
Still moving along through the early stages of the 2017-18 campaign, head coach Michael Cooney and his Wolves (3-2) have been in the process of simply trying to put pieces together for the long haul. An early-season injury to junior guard Karlos Odum forced the team to adjust and switch things around through its first four contests.
"We started with three really good wins against Miles, Tuskegee and Augusta State," Cooney said. "We played Morehouse tough with our lineup, but as you're playing, you're saying, 'Man, I wish we had Karlos Odum because he's so tough and can make so many things happen.' We just didn't play well down the stretch."
Following the 91-86 loss to Morehouse, the Wolves hit the road to Johnson C. Smith this past Saturday, where the game started on the right foot until leading scorer Marquill Smith went down with a high ankle sprain.
"We went to JCS with a better attitude. We played hard and played well, but when Marquill went down with about three minutes to go in the first half it was emotionally tough on us," Cooney said. "They also made it a halfcourt game and changed the momentum by switching to a 2-3 zone and it slowed us down. We just didn't have the patience and plays needed to beat a good team on the road."
Despite the back-to-back setbacks, the Wolves head man is pleased with the way his guys are handling some adversity this early in the year.
"I think my guys are doing a heck of a job based on these games and the adjustments they've had to make," Cooney said. "It's not easy to practice doing things and then get to the game and finding out some guys aren't available to play. I'm especially pleased with the freshmen and how they're coming along."
Cooney indicated that freshman Greg James will be taking the place of Smith in tonight's game at winless Shorter. Under first-year head coach Wade Anderson, the Hawks (0-7) are trying to forge an identity for themselves. Cooney is familiar with the new guy on the job in Rome and knows what potentially lies ahead this evening.
"Coach Anderson was an assistant coach at Christian Brothers and West Florida, so he's very familiar with us and how we play. He's going to come in with a plan to try to slow us down and keep us off-balance, so we'll have our work cut out for us, for sure," Cooney said.
"We have to figure out a way to beat a Shorter team that's trying to get their identity, but it's on the road and a tough place to play. That's the challenge for us right now."
The Wolves will follow this game up with a trip to Lee on Saturday before returning to nothing but home games for the rest of December. Cooney is optimistic that things can get going quickly for his guys sooner rather than later.
"I'm very hopeful that we can get though this week and and get our banged-up guys back," Cooney said. "Then we'll have four in a row at home, which is the chance for us to turn this thing around and get it back going into the direction we hope to."