“Our guys have really bought in to what we are trying to do this year on both ends of the floor,” Cross said. “With this team it really starts on the defensive end. Our defense can really create offense for us and that is what we really have to continue to focus on just tightening up our defense. That is basketball, there is going to be some nights where the shots are falling and other nights when they are not, but defense can keep you in games especially when you go on the road. So that has to be our focus because we have a month long stretch of conference games where we will be on the road before we get back home.”
The Tornadoes will have to depend on their defense on their seven game road trip, with six of those games being conference game. With being ranked in the top 10, many teams will look to play their best basketball of the season to upset the Tornadoes.
“This is going to be the biggest test for us this season,” Cross said. “We had a non-conference schedule where we had a lot of road test and were able to get some victories and good experience. Hopefully, it will pay off for this conference stretch. Now we are in a different position than we were in non-conference, because we do have that No.8 ranking. We are used to being the hunter and now we are the hunted, so it is a little different ball game. I tell the guys it is one thing to get to the top, but it is a different thing to stay on the top. It is going to require everybody to be on the same page. These guys have earned it and they have worked really hard to be in the position that they are in but the hardest work is in front of them.”
The first game of the trip starts at Southern University at New Orleans. On the season they are 9-6 overall and 1-2 in conference play. Kelvin Dukes leads SUNO with 14 points per game and five assists per game. Last season, TC swept SUNO in the regular season. Cross knows that SUNO is out to get revenge this season.
“Any conference game is tough especially the ones on the road,” Cross said. “Last year, we went into SUNO and won by 20, so I know that is going to be in the back of their mind to get some revenge and not to mention that we are the team to beat in the conference right now. That’s what the guys have to realize that these are juniors and seniors now and they get up to play top 10 teams. Everybody is going to be coming after us.”
Shondel Stewart earned GCAC Player of the Week honors for Jan. 12. The junior averaged 18 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in two wins over Pensacola Christian and Tougaloo. Roman Vaughn earned Player of the Week honors for the week of Jan. 5. He scored 25 points in a win over Dillard. Vaughn and Stewart are two of the five players to average double figures for the Tornadoes.
“The last two weeks we had two different conference players of the week,” Cross said. “Roman Vaughn and Shondel Stewart. What makes this team unique and so good on the offensive end we have five guys that are averaging double figures. So the teams that are preparing for us or scouting us trying to figure out how to stop us, it is kind of hard because it’s like who do you stop when you have five guys that can score like that. You can really focus in on one person, so that is what makes us difficult to defend and so good offensively. We realize that we are strong on the offensive and we understand going on the road things aren’t always going to go your way and the shots won’t fall, but if you can play great defense it will keep you in the game and if you a chance to win. ”