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TAMPA -- In the first game of an almost eight-week Sunshine State Conference schedule, the University of Tampa men's basketball team was dominated by Eckerd Jan. 8.
The Spartans were limited to 20 points in the first half and 19 in the second in a 75-39 road loss to the rival Tritons. The outcome continued a streaky few weeks for UT that included four losses in eight games after a 5-0 start. The Spartans quickly rallied, beating Barry 44-39 three days later to even their conference mark and erase memories of the ugly Eckerd loss. But UT (10-5 overall, 1-2 SSC) followed that win with a close 42-37 loss to rival Florida Southern Wednesday night.
The play of junior forward Achille Ngounou has been key for the Spartans early in the season. The transfer from the University of Texas-Arlington has averaged 14 points per game, fourth-best in the conference. Also, he is No. 1 in rebounding with 9.2 per game.
Ngounou averaged 10.7 points and 10.7 rebounds as Tampa went 2-1 during the holiday break. Ngounou's top outing was a 15-point, nine-rebound effort in a 70-44 win over Worcester State. He added 11 points and six rebounds in a 68-58 loss to Morehouse and six points and seven rebounds in a 59-54 win over Wayne State. During the three games, Ngounou shot 36 percent and 42 percent from 3-point range.
UT also has received solid play from 7-foot-2 center Denis Orlov, junior forward Rob Sargeant and freshman point guard Larry McClinton. In addition, freshman guard Marty Harrington scored a career-high 18 against Barry and 14 in his first start against Worcester State. Harrington converted 4 of 8 3-pointers, added two assists and two steals. Earlier in the season, Harrington hit a winner at the buzzer and sent another game into overtime with a last-second score. Redshirt freshman Joe Anders matched his career high with eight rebounds against Worcester State.
Injuries also have played a part in the Spartans' start.
Senior forward James Mereus was redshirted with a foot injury. Mereus played in six games and averaged 14.0 points and 9.3 rebounds. The foot was broken last season and pain flared up again this season. Mereus' last game was Dec. 29 in UT's 68-58 loss to Morehouse.
Guard Tim Yarn, a transfer who played football at South Carolina, has been hobbled by a knee injury he sustained playing football two seasons ago. And Earnest Williams, who started 29 games a season ago, has seen his playing time limited with tendinitis in both knees.
UT hosts Rollins Saturday and travels to Florida Tech Jan. 22.
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: The Spartans have a 12-3 record overall, a 3-0 mark in conference play and plenty of high marks among league squads. UT is the SSC's top-ranked team in field goal percentage (.460), blocks (5.62 per game) and defensive rebounds (29.15 per game). The Spartans also are second in team assists with 17.15 per game.
Senior center/forward Jessie McDowell is a key reason why.
McDowell, this week's SSC Player of the Week, helped UT to conference wins against Barry and Eckerd last week and notched her first career triple double in the process.
McDowell had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks in UT's 82-62 win against Barry. She also had 12 points and eight rebounds in the 69-57 victory against Eckerd. But McDowell hasn't been the only Spartan to excel.
Yushanda Morse, a junior guard, isn't far behind with 16.9 points per game and eight rebounds. Senior guard Liz Wetenkamp and senior forward Andrea Nordholt have been the top playmakers with a combined average of almost 10 assists a game. And Vanessa Hubbard contributed 20 points in the Spartans' 68-59 win against Florida Southern Wednesday night.