Cotton Blossoms post pair of holiday wins

Tanya Ray has got her University of Arkansas at Monticello Cotton Blosoms playing like anything but what her peers in the Great American Conference picked them to finish in the preseason. With two wins last week, the Blossoms stand 4-2 entering this week’s GAC play, where they were picked 11th of 12 teams.
The latest two triumphs were on the road, 42-40 over old Gulf South Conference rival Christian Brothers (Tenn.) University last Tuesday and at home, 81-68 over Paul Quinn (Texas) College on Saturday.
The latter victory was UAM’s Steelman Field House opener and marked the beginning of a four-game home stand for the Blossoms. Southeastern Oklahoma State University visits at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and East Central University at 1 p.m. Saturday as UAM returns to GAC action. The Blossoms then take a holiday break before hosting Southern University of New Orleans on Saturday, Dec. 30 in their last non-conference outing.
Against Paul Quinn, UAM steadily gained control throughthe first three quarters,more than enough to absorb a 25-point fourth period by the visitors.
“We had a good collective effort as a team,” Ray said. “We had a coupIe of players in double figures with MacKenzie Johnson leading the way. I thought she was very aggressive on the offense end of the floor and did a great job of taking what the defense gave her.
“I was disappointed in how we ended the game down the stretch. We were up big and we became complacent. I think we had people who thought the game was over and we relaxed. They made a good push with a press and we did not handle it well and they were able to chip away at the score.
“I was also disappointed in our rebounding effort as we gave up 15 offensive rebounds. We cannot allow teams second and third chances to score. But it was a 2-0 week, and I will take it.”
Johnson, a 5-foot-9 sophomore from Missouri City, Texas, scored 20 points to pace three Blossoms tht reached the 10-point barrier against Paul Quinn. Junior Charlynn Perry netted 15 and senior Taylor Collins added 14 in UAM’s 13-point win.
The Blossoms’ largest lead in their home opener was 28 points as they took command early. As a team, UAM shot 53.1 percent front the field against its visitor from Texas.
At CBU, the Blossoms parlayed a 26-17 intermission advantage into the two-point win, despite scoring only eight points in both the third and fourth quarters. Junior Chari Swift led UAM with 11 points and senior Brittnee Broadway chipped in with 19.
“I thought our game last week against Christian Brothers was a good road win,” Ray noted. “We were really good defensively allowing only 40 points, and forced them out of their comfort zone while they were trying to run their offense. We have been a good defensive team up until this point and that is what has kept us in our games.
“We continue to really struggle on the offensive end of the floor at times, going through stretches were we don’t score. We went through that in the third quarter against them. With us having so many new players we are still trying to find our way.
“I was proud that we were able to hang tough and Charlynn Perry was able to knock down free throws (with just four seconds remaining on the fourth-quarter clock) to seal the win.”
Now, UAM must get down to business, Ray said.
“We understand how important it is to win those conference home games so we have to have a mindset of protecting home court,” she noted. “Southeastern Oklahoma and East Central are both two very good offensive teams. They play at a fast pace and we must find a way to slow them down. We must also do a good job of moving the basketball and look to take high percentage shots. We can’t just settle for any look they give us.”

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