By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– East Lincoln’s boys basketball team has been on a roll. But heading into conference play the Mustangs’ goal is to not let their early-season success go to their heads.
Undefeated East Lincoln opens Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference play tonight at Bandys, and does so against a team that has struggled early.
The Mustangs (5-0) have had their struggles, too, such as rebounding and turnovers. But the record book up to this point shows perfection.
Now that league play is here, they can’t go into a game expecting to win.
“We still want to respect everybody,” senior center Charlie Hills said. “Confidence is high, we’re a good team, but we don’t want to go in and take anybody too lightly.”
East Lincoln has won its first five games by an average of 21.2 points, with its closest win coming 68-63 at Belmont South Point on Dec. 10.
The Trojans (3-4) enter tonight’s league contest having lost two of their last three, with their only win during that stretch coming against winless North Wilkes.
So, given their recent success –– the Mustangs are scoring 72.8 points a night on average while giving up 51.6 –– it would seem they’re already looking ahead to next week’s East Lincoln Winter Jam.
“Coach tells everyday: ‘Respect all, fear none,’” senior forward Mason Leach said. “That’s what we’re taking into the season.”
According to statistics posted by Bandys on Maxpreps.com, it’s scoring 52.1 points per game and is led by Jonah Griffith, who was averaging 14 points per game through its first six games.
In addition to the 6-foot-9 Hills and the 6-4 Leach, East Lincoln is led by brothers Chazz and Sage Surratt. The sophomore-freshman duo is averaging 38.4 points per game combined –– 19.4 by Chazz –– while Hills is at 9.4 points per game and Leach at 5.8.
Even with all that scoring, there is room for improvement, Hills and Leach said, especially in rebounding and taking care of the basketball.
The Mustangs, according to Maxpreps.com, are averaging 30 rebounds and 13.8 turnovers a game.
“We need to take more care of the ball; we’re having a couple more turnovers a game than we should. Once we get those two –– more rebounds and less turnovers –– we’ll definitely be a lot better,” Hills said.
Leach’s answer to how his team has been so good so early was simple.
“All of us working as a team. … We’ve all played together before, so it’s just getting out here and getting to work and playing as a team,” he said.
East Lincoln coach Neill Hodges doesn’t buy it. At least not yet.
“It’s early. We’ve played five of 23 games, so that’s a little more than 20 percent of the season,” Hodges said. “We’ve been playing well, but we’ll see just how good we are in January and February. Those are the games that count.”
Even the late-December game that’ll take place tonight in Catawba.
“Five-and-0 is a good start, and it did give us a lot of momentum,” Hills said. “But keeping that momentum up through conference and the Christmas tournament will definitely help us through, once the new year starts.”