Alcorn’s long road trip nearing end|[12/30/2005]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 30, 2005

There’s nothing quite like a college road trip.

Grabbing a few friends, maybe some clothes and some snacks, and heading out on the highway for parts unknown is a ritual for any young student.

For the Alcorn State basketball team, it’s a familiar one. By the end of this season, the Braves will be able to teach classes on the finer points of road tripping.

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Alcorn has not played a home game yet this season, and won’t until Jan. 7. Tonight’s game at Ole Miss will be Alcorn’s first in Mississippi, and even that will involve a four-hour bus ride from Lorman to Oxford. It will also mark the seventh different state the Braves have played in.

And just because it’s the closest the Braves have been to home for a game, doesn’t make it any easier.

&#8220It’s going to be an away game. As soon as we walk in we’ll know we’re not at home,” Alcorn assistant coach Jason Cable said. &#8220But we might have some fans there.”

The season-long odyssey has included games in small gyms (Sam Houston State’s 6,100-seat Johnson Coliseum) and big ones (the 15,000-seat &#8220The Pit” of New Mexico), in huge cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix, and small towns like Nacogdoches, Texas.

It’s included close games and blowouts, but no victories. And it’s helped a young team bond, which was the purpose of it all, Alcorn head coach Sam West said.

&#8220It hasn’t been tough at all. It’s been a joy. Everything has been perfect, with the exception of not winning a few games,” West said. &#8220It’s been first-class all the way. The kids have gotten a lot of exposure, and we’ve still maintained a 3.0 GPA as a team.”

The Braves’ grades might be good because there’s little else to do besides study and think about the next opponent as they wander down highways and through airports from one coast to the next.

The season started with a game against South Florida on Nov. 18. Since then, Alcorn has played in all four time zones, against teams from six different conferences, and logged more than 15,000 frequent flier miles.

&#8220The most difficult thing has been the planning,” said Cable, who makes most of the team’s travel arrangements. &#8220Sometimes I forget what city I’m in. You just have to be organized.”

Amazingly, Cable reported there haven’t been any problems with the travel. Nary a flat tire, broken engine or flight delay to be found.

On the court, the Braves haven’t been as lucky.

They’ve lost all eight games they’ve played so far, by an average margin of 15 points. Alcorn has stayed with most opponents until fading late in the second half, though. In six of the eight losses, the Braves have been within 10 points with under 10 minutes to play. Despite five losses by 17 points or more, only a 75-57 setback against Stephen F. Austin was a total blowout.

&#8220We could easily be 3-4 or 4-3 at this point. It’s different playing on the road. You almost have to play a perfect game,” Cable said, adding that the team is showing signs of improvement heading into Southwestern Athletic Conference play in January. &#8220We can see it. The last two games it really came together. Against New Mexico, we put two halves together and that’s what coach (West) has been talking about.”

After tonight’s game at Ole Miss, the Braves hit the road for a pair of SWAC games in Texas against Texas Southern and Prairie View next week. Then it’s finally back to Lorman for a long-awaited home game with archrival Jackson State next Saturday.

When the Braves do take the floor at the Whitney Complex for the first time this season, West expects an emotional reaction.

&#8220We’ll probably cry. We’ll probably shout. We’re going to be excited our fans are getting a chance to see us,” West said.