HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Wallace State men's basketball coach John Meeks has led the Lions to a pair of Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) titles and subsequent national tournament appearances, yet he perceives Thursday night's ACCC North Division showdown with Marion Military Institute as one of the most significant in his six seasons in Hanceville.
Marion Military (20-3, 8-0 ACCC) is ranked 16th in the latest NJCAA poll and has won 15 consecutive games, while Wallace State, ranked 17th nationally, has won five in a row and 14 of 16. Tip off is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Tom Drake Coliseum.
"It's one of the biggest games I can remember being a part of here in the regular season. It's No. 16 vs. No. 17 and for first place in the division. Every competitor should enjoy a game like this. It's why you play college basketball," Meeks said. "The main thing for us is making sure we treat it just like every other regular season game. We have three conference road games after Marion Military, and they're just as important."
Wallace State (22-4, 7-1 ACCC) is off to its best start in the Meeks' era. The team's lone conference loss was at Marion Military on Jan. 19, a slim 53-52 defeat. It's also the only loss for Wallace State since the calendar flipped to 2016.
Wallace State has five players averaging at least seven points per game. Sophomore Marcus Barham pours in 12.8 per game, Derylton Hill averages 11.1 points and 6.4 rebounds and Immanuel King averages 9.8 points and eight rebounds per game. Kylen Butler scores 8.3 a game and point guard Xavier Mills averages 7.5 points and has dished out 118 assists – good for fourth in the league.
Defensively, the Lions yield a conference-best 58.5 points per game.
Marion Military is also in the midst of one of its most successful seasons. Under third-year coach Philip Stitt, the Tigers have rebounded considerably after going winless last season in league play.
"We are looking forward to the challenge of competing against a very good Wallace State Community College program," Stitt said. "This game should showcase the quality of play here in the ACCC and in Region 22."
Marion Military has scored an average of 75.6 points per game in conference play – the best mark in the ACCC North. The team is shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Sophomore Christian Bradford leads the Tigers by scoring 18.6 points per game, while sophomore Ronnie Baylark averages 17.1. Bradford is the fifth-leading scorer in the conference.
Marion Military hasn't lost since Nov. 16.
Meeks is impressed with Marion Military's turnaround in less than a year.
"Marion Military is a hungry team. They had four guys from last year's team who decided to come back, and that shows the direction coach Stitt has the program going. They have bought into his vision about being a better team and here they are. The hunger that Marion Military has this season can't be underestimated," Meeks said.