By NATE GRIFFIN, SportsRadio 610

HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – After finishing 10-19 overall, 3-7 in conference, fifth-seeded Houston Baptist and Head Coach Ron Cottrell face fourth-seeded NJIT in the opening round of the Great West Conference Tournament Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

“Anytime you start playing post-season play, it’s a new season and the guys are excited about the opportunities that lay ahead of us.”

The Huskies and the 13-16, 5-5 Highlanders have split the season series a game apiece. HBU lost at New Jersey Institute, 85-62, but won at Sharp Gym, 75-68. Cottrell sees the split as a plus.

“I think we’ve got a tremendous opportunity with this conference tournament because we’ve beaten three of the four teams we’re going to be looking at already this year. So, I think our guys feel confident that they can have success going into this tournament.”

The venue for the tournament is the Jones Convocation Center on the campus of Chicago State University. Cottrell says it’s an ideal tournament environment.

“I like the fact that it’s in Chicago. I think it’s a basketball city and certainly we’re playing in a terrific arena. I mean Chicago State’s arena is second to none and we’ve had success in that arena in the past. So, we’re excited about going up there.”

LEADING SCORER SUSPENDED

HBU will be without leading scorer and rebounder, junior forward Marcus Davis for a violation of team rules. He posted 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Davis had been coming off the bench prior to his suspension. However, Cottrell will depend on Davis’ teammates to pick up the slack.

But, even with Davis in the lineup, the team lost games that Cottrell would like to forget. However, this tournament experience could still breathe new life into a team heading into game one.

“We’re a better team now than we were a month, month and a half ago, and so it’s kind of a fresh start. So, I think they see this as a way to kind of move forward from some games early on that we didn’t play necessarily really well. But, I think they now understand more about what it takes to win in this conference.”

ON THE COURT

The Huskies are led in scoring by junior 6’9” forward Art Bernardi who averages 11.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Freshman guard Tyler Russell averages 11.4 points per game and has scored in double figures in all 10 of HBU’s victories. Russell also received Great West Conference Honorable Mention recognition.

Senior forward Terry Bembry is adding 8.6 points per game for the season. However, he led the Huskies with 12.8 points per game in conference play and scored in double figures in 10 of the last 12 games.

Senior 6’11” center Joe Latas averages 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and was named Great West Conference Player of the Week after an 18-point, 10-rebound breakout performance in a 65-58 win over Texas-Pan American in the Huskies final regular-season home game.

Starters for the Huskies will be sophomore guard Jonathan Evans, junior guard Anthony Hill, freshman guard Tyler Russell, 6’7” senior forward Terry Bembry, and senior center Joe Latas

Meanwhile, NJIT is led by Isaiah Wilkerson who leads the Great West with 16.0 points per game. Chris Flores averages 12.5 points per game.

Tipoff for the Huskies-Highlanders gets underway Thursday afternoon at 2:30.

Follow me at www.twitter.com/coloranalyst and facebook.

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