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5 Choctaws to Watch as Basketball Enters the Heart of Conference Play
With ten games remaining on the conference slate for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, Choctaw basketball is in the thick of a tough Gulf South Conference schedule. The young Lady Choctaws have struggled through much of this season, sitting at just 4-13 (3-11 GSC) for 12th in the GSC. While they are four spots out of the GSC tournament at the moment, the Lady Choctaws are only three games behind eighth-seed Christian Brothers after a win against the Bucs on Thursday, January 12. They will need to string together some big wins if they are to make the GSC tournament for the second year in a row.
Meanwhile, a much-improved men’s squad sits at 10-8 (6-8 GSC) and are eighth in the GSC. In just his second season at the helm, Head Coach Randy Bolden has his Choctaws fighting to make the GSC tournament for the first time since they returned to Division II competition in 2014. They also have the chance to put together their first winning season in that time.
Here are five key players from these teams that Choctaw fans should look out for as each squad tries to reach the postseason.
Thompson is currently leading MC in scoring and is fourth in the GSC, averaging 18.6 points per game. In the Choctaws’ December 11 victory over Alabama Huntsville, Thompson scored a career-high 47 points and set a school record with 9 threes. On the season he has been shooting from three at a scorching pace, shooting .462%.
A second-year Choctaw, Thompson struggled with injuries last season but has taken advantage of his availability this season, becoming the focal point of the Choctaw offense from the shooting guard position.
The other focal point of the Choctaw offense this season has been Senior Forward Galen Smith. A punishing presence inside, Smith has seen his game develop significantly in his time at MC. By adding a variety of moves in the low post, Smith has seen his average points per game rise from 13.2 last season to 15.4 this year despite being on the floor with significantly more talent when compared to last season.
Smith’s ability to cause the defense to collapse has allowed the outside shooters like Thompson to find more space and create open shots, as well as presenting more options for Bolden to run plays in the half court.
The guy at the helm of this much-improved Choctaw offense is Miles Miller. It is a common sight to see him directing traffic as the Choctaws run plays in the half court, making sure Bolden’s play call gets communicated to the whole team.
After injuries forced him into the point guard role last season, Miller has embraced it and overseen the Choctaws’ scoring improvement from 62.8 points per game last season to 75.4 this year.
After getting comfortable in his new role last season, Miller has excelled as a passer this season, leading the conference in assists at 6.2 per game, and his 107 total assists on the year are the third most in the nation.
His assist-to-turnover ratio is also among the best in the conference at 2.2, good for third in the GSC.
Julian has solidified herself as the go-to scoring option for the Lady Choctaws this season. The veteran shooter has increased her scoring output this season from 9.7 points per game last year to this season’s 11.6 points per game. She is the only Lady Choctaw averaging double-digit scoring. In the Lady Choctaws’ January 12 win over Christian Brothers, Julian set a career-high with 27 points, including 7 made threes.
She has also improved her efficiency this season as her three-point shooting percentage has increased from .331 to .347. Julian’s 97 made threes throughout her career currently have her tied for third all-time at MC, and as a current junior, she is only 11 made threes behind the all-time record of 108, set by Anna Patterson between 2007 and 2010. Julian hit 44 threes in 2021-22 and already has 33 this season.
Lady Choctaw Freshmen
While it might seem like a cop-out to list a whole group of players, the Lady Choctaws have an entire crop of freshmen who are learning to make an impact with the team.
Starting out is freshman point guard Brett Gardner, who has gotten 16 starts on the season. As the team’s starting point guard, she has been the only constant in their starting lineup besides Kyiah Julian. She is tied with Julian for the most assists on the team with 31 and is their second-leading scorer at 6.5 points per game. Gardner is also one of the most efficient three-point shooters on the team, shooting .381 from outside.
Another pair of freshman guards, Ava Knoedl and Karly Ivy are averaging 6.0 and 5.5 points per game respectively. Described by Head Coach Greg Long as “dogs,” both Knoedl and Ivy scored 11 points in a January 14 loss to #24 Union in which the young Lady Choctaws fought hard throughout the game dispute, struggling with turnovers and Union’s excellent shooting.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are back in action on the road against Valdosta State on Thursday, January 19.
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