By Dave Wagner
CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — When you ask Eastern New Mexico University’s men basketball coach Andrew Helton what needs to improve for the Greyhounds to be successful when the season resumes this week following a two-week holiday hiatus, he has a quick response.
“We’ve lost five games by (21) points,” he said. “We just haven’t defended as well as we need to, and we haven’t played as well as we need to.”
The Greyhounds (4-5), who face host South Dakota School of Mines and Technology on Wednesday and Johnson & Wales (Colo.) on Thursday at Rapid City, S.D., before getting into Lone Star Conference play next week, have a sub-.500 record despite outscoring their opponents by just over nine points per game.
Their most lopsided loss so far has been by seven points. Meantime, three of their wins have been by more than 20.
The team returned from the break and practiced twice on Monday, then left later in the day for South Dakota.
“We’re just trying to fix some things, mainly on defense,” senior forward D.J. Hardwell said. “If we can fix those things, I think we’ll be OK.”
Led by senior point guard Rodney Blackmon, the LSC’s leading scorer (20.9 ppg), the Hounds come into the new year with four players averaging in double figures.
Although the Hounds have had almost no practice time since returning from the break, Helton is hoping they can use these games as a springboard to the rest of the season.
“It’s a huge advantage to play non-league games before you jump into the conference,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to do it.”
ENMU has led in six games so far at halftime, and hasn’t trailed by more five points at the break in the other three. They’ve had a little trouble finishing.
It comes down to playing a complete game, Helton said.
“If you don’t play good, you’re going to lose,” he said. “If you play good and you play hard, you have a great chance to win.”
The senior-laden squad has much of its roster back from last year, when the Hounds finished in a four-way tie for fourth in the LSC at 9-9.
That should pay dividends when LSC play begins, Hardwell said.
“A lot of us have been here two years now,” said Hardwell, a junior college transfer last year who is from Los Angeles. “I think everybody knows what to expect in the conference, and what we have to do to win.”
ENMU opens its LSC schedule a week from Wednesday at home against Cameron (5-5).
Scoring leader: Rodney Blackmon 20.9 ppg
Rebound leader: Cornelius Cammock 5.3 rpg
Assist leader: Rodney Blackmon 4.1 apg