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HBCU Basketball

A great senior guard combo is leading 13-0 Morehouse College

Steals, defense and a hunger to beat SIAC rival Clark Atlanta is fueling their fast start

The hottest team in Atlanta is not who you might think.

It’s not Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team, even though the Yellow Jackets recently upset the No. 15 Miami Hurricanes. A 4-1 record over their past five games, combined with the motivation to no longer be defined by “28-3,” doesn’t qualify the Atlanta Falcons either.

No, the ATL’s hottest team plays basketball at the small, all-male institution in the southwestern corner of the city — it’s Morehouse College. The Maroon Tigers are a perfect 13-0 and ranked No. 20 in the Division II National Association of Basketball Coaches poll.

“It’s a memory that I’ll never forget, especially the fact that it happened my senior year,” said Martravious Little, one of the team’s senior captains along with Tyrius Walker. “So to go, me and Tyrius, through the grind from freshman year all the way up to now and to see the growth, to just be able to be a part of this and to lead our team, that’s a wonderful feeling.”

For almost 30 years, 7-0 stood as the Maroon Tigers’ best start to a season. In a crushing 100-57 victory over Paine College on Dec. 2, 2017, Morehouse surpassed that mark set by the 1988-89 team. Little over a month later, the team earned its first ranking since 1995.

Preseason predictions had Morehouse finishing fourth in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s (SIAC) East Division. With its current 8-0 conference record, the team is second behind 9-0 Claflin.

“We [students] aren’t used to athletics being good, and the basketball team is on fire right now,” said Tucker Toole, a sophomore who often does play-by-play for the Maroon Tigers Sports Network. “So it did kind of catch me a little off guard, but with some of the players we have, it doesn’t necessarily surprise me.”

Offensively, the team’s performance has been unmatched, especially in the SIAC. Morehouse leads the conference in eight categories, including scoring average (87.2), field goal percentage (.489) and steals per game (10.0). Despite their exceptional performance, the Maroon Tigers were still in search of a season-defining play. That changed when junior forward Tony Evans did his best LeBron James impersonation on the head of a poor Lane College defender.

Much of the team’s improved play can be attributed to Walker, the senior point guard. Last year, Walker led the team in points, assists and steals en route to an 18-10 record. Despite earning both first-team All-American and all-conference honors, losing in the SIAC tournament to archrival Clark Atlanta left a sour taste in his mouth.

“Nobody wants to lose to the rival,” said Walker. “[Being] that they were the ones that put us out of the playoffs and they won the championship, it just gave us more hunger. And knowing this is my last year, it made me have that killer instinct, hungry to get them back, and not even just them — just to get a championship my last year.”

The co-captains were in the gym just three days after their tournament exit. “Our mindset [was] that we got to redeem ourselves,” said Little, who is second on the team in scoring. “Not only redeem ourselves, but we have to redeem our school name.”

Nobody has exemplified this attitude more than Walker. Having established a reputation as a crafty finisher, a near 12-percentage-point increase in his 3-point shooting percentage has resulted in the 6-foot-1 Atlanta product scoring 68 more points through 13 games than last year.

That improved perimeter stroke pushed Walker’s per-game scoring average to 21.3, up from 18.5, which ranks second in the SIAC and 33rd in Division II. And his per-game averages for assists, steals and free throw percentage all rank within the top 10 of the conference.

Coach Grady Brewer pointed to the team’s improved defense as the reason for their success. He also believes the team’s camaraderie has played a big role. Morehouse leads the SIAC in assists; Walker and his backup, Michael Olmert, are tied for the team lead with 52.

“We play together,” said Brewer. “We share the ball.”

The team’s next hurdle will be overcoming complacency. While staying perfect will be difficult, Brewer’s philosophy of “poise in the noise” has been constant.

Although a stellar start has already earned the 2017-18 Maroon Tigers a place in the Morehouse history books, they want more. Twenty years from now, few will remember the team’s record. Like Jermaine Dupri might say, the Maroon Tigers won’t “like it if it don’t gleam clean.” Only something shiny will cement their legacy.

C. Isaiah Smalls, II is a Rhoden Fellow and a graduate of Morehouse College from Lansing, Michigan. He studied Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies. He was Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon Tiger.