PIKEVILLE, Ky. – Take any team at any level, from little league to the NBA, and put them on a win streak that reaches double digits and excitement is going to be in the air. The Pikeville College Bears are no different.
The Bears are coming off their 11th straight win, a 93-61 victory over Berea College that pushes them to 14-2 on the season. They’ve gone from getting one single, solitary vote in the NAIA Div. I preseason poll to 23rd in the country. Without a doubt, the team is thrilled to be where it is at this point.
“Had you told me the night we lost at Bluefield (a 92-82 decision) that we’d be at mid-January and still not have lost again, I’d have thought you were ready for an asylum,” said Coach Kelly Wells. “I still have a hard time believing it.”
One of the things that makes this run especially improbable is that it has come, largely, away from home. In fact, only the first two wins in the streak came at the Pikeville College Gym. Since then, it’s been nine in a row, and – with the exception of a pair of games at the East Kentucky Expo Center in mid-December – they’ve all been far away from Pikeville.
The stretch began with a pre-Thanksgiving win over Cincinnati Christian University in the Pikeville College Thanksgiving Classic, followed by a Nov. 28 rout of the school’s biggest rival Alice Lloyd by a 90-47 final.
Then came December and two wins in the Roy N. Baker Classic at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn. And while the wins were routs – the combined margin was 75 points – they were significant: The Bears had not exactly been road demons the last two-plus seasons.
In fact, since Randy McCoy stepped down due to health issues in December 2006, the Bears had lost 22 of their last 24 games played away from home.
“We talked about it as a staff that we hadn’t been a great road team,” Wells said. “It was something we were definitely concerned about. But thankfully it’s well behind us now.”
After the pair of wins in the Baker Classic, the Bears picked up a victory a week later at Brescia, another NAIA Div. I opponent, by an 84-69 final. They came home for a pair of wins at the Expo Center and then recorded their second forfeit of the season.
Since then, it’s been back-to-back road wins at Ohio State-Mansfield and then, Saturday, at Berea.
“Five of these 11 wins have been away from home, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” Wells said. “We’ve taken care of business, and that’s something we weren’t able to do as recently as a year ago.”
In the win streak, the Bears have an average margin of victory of 33.9 points per game.
Defensively, the Bears have been fantastic, holding opponents to an average of 64.3 points per game. “Our defense has been very good,” said Wells.
On the season, the Bears are holding opponents to only 41.2 percent shooting and a mere 35.1 percent from the arc, and, thanks to a dominating inside presence, the team has a rebounding margin of 14.2 per game, which is second in the entire country. The Bears are pulling down 60 percent of missed shots this season.
In addition, the Bears are leading the nation by averaging 15 steals per game, more than twice the number of their opponents. Also, during the win streak, they have allowed 70 or more points only one time, while being held below 90 points only twice.
“It’s something we work very hard to do,” the coach said. “It’s not an easy part of the game. Defending is hard work and not everybody is willing to do it. Thankfully our team takes pride in what they do defensively and it’s a big reason we’re where we are right now.”
Next, the Bears play old rival Alice Lloyd again on Thursday night. Amazingly, the Bears haven’t lost since the last time the teams met, but this one will be in Pippa Passes, where the Eagles traditionally play much better and have caused Pikeville teams trouble in the past.
“We expect to have our hands full over there,” said Wells, who lost his first game as head coach of the Bears in Pippa Passes last year. “But we’re excited about it. We think we’re up to the challenge and can’t wait to get over there.
“We’re very excited about this basketball season and can’t wait to see where it takes us.”