Hoop dreams spring eternal for ‘Toppers

Brian Caudill

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  Hopes are high for the St. Edward’s men’s basketball team this season. While the Hilltoppers finished last season with a 9-16 record, the team started this season with three straight wins. The first two wins came in exhibition play against Mary Hardin-Baylor and Trinity. In their first game of the regular season, St. Edward’s topped Southwestern, 94-69. St. Edward’s returns four starters from last year, including the two top-scorers. The returning starters are guards Zilijan Jones and Khaliq Gross and forwards Remy Boswell and Shimeek Johnson. Senior Boswell, the tallest Hilltopper on the team at 6’8″, led the team in points and rebounds last year with per-game averages of 15 and seven, respectively. He tries “to serve [the] team to the fullest, from being vocal on the court or taking time to pass some knowledge on to a teammate,” Boswell said. Johnson,  a 6’7″ junior, was the team’s second leading scorer last year, averaging just over 13 points per game. But Johnson believes there is always room for improvement. “I know I’m capable of performing better on offense and defense,” Johnson said. Jones, a 5’9″ sophomore, is the point guard and led the Hilltoppers with 67 assists last year. Jones feels comfortable playing for Head Coach Andre Cook. “Coach trusts me on and off the court to make smart decisions,” Jones said. Gross, one of the team’s four players from upstate New York, was the fourth highest scorer last season and averaged 9.4 points per game.  In the team’s win over local rival Southwestern on Nov. 11, Boswell led five Hilltoppers in double figures with 25 points. Jones nearly had a triple-double as he tallied 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Johnson had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Gross added 15 points and seven rebounds. Off the bench, sophomore guard Matt Miner scored 18 points. While the final score was 94-69, St. Edward’s halftime lead was a tight 40-36. The Hilltoppers used a 24-4 run in the second half to distance themselves from Southwestern. Both Boswell and Jones had 10 points each during the decisive run. “We came out with passion and much more effort than the first half,” Boswell said. “We’re a running team and that’s what we did the second half.”   Against St. Thomas on Nov. 14, the ‘Toppers broke away in the second half with an 18-3 run. St. Ed’s sunk 18 three-pointers on the night, breaking a 12-year-old school record.   The Hilltoppers look at last season’s 9-16 record for motivation going forward. “Last season’s record just makes us want to win even more,” Johnson said. Last year’s squad “had a lot of individuals with talent but we didn’t play as a team. I believe this year we’ll play for the next guy,” Johnson said. The Hilltoppers have big goals this season. “We want to win conference and then go far in the national tournament,” Johnson said. Boswell took it a step further by saying he believes the team can “compete for the Division II national championship.” St. Edward’s hosted St. Thomas on Nov. 14. The Hilltoppers will have home games against TAMU-Kingsville on 11/17 and SE Oklahoma St. on 11/19 before heading on the road to play TAMU-Kingsville on Nov. 22.