The red-hot Wildcats extended their win streak to eight and 20 straight home wins on Sunday afternoon defeating the Div. III Howard Payne Yellow Jackets 112-41, the largest win in the Wildcats Div I. era.
Head coach Brette Tanner and the Wildcats showcased a high-flying defense that secured 51 points off of 31 turnovers against the Yellow Jackets. The 18 steals from the Wildcats is tied for a season-high and the fourth-most in a game. The Wildcats are currently first in the nation in turnover margin with 9.7 with the University of Alabama-Birmingham in second with 9.1. Tanner and the Wildcats are also first in turnovers forced per game with a 23.22 average. The next closest team is Morgan State at 21.55.
“Finally we’re getting out in passing lanes,” Tanner said. “We’ve been turning teams over but we haven’t been getting out of passing lanes and getting the kind of steals we want to score off of. We had talked about that for a week in practice since the Bakersfield game. I thought the guys did a good job of getting out there in passing lanes and creating turnovers where we could score.”
Initially, Tanner and the team want to force over 20 turnovers in the game, but as the game went on, the Wildcats were motivated to up their goal.
“We had a goal tonight of turning the ball over 25 times, we had 17 in the first half and so at halftime, we told them we wanted 30. I was proud of the guys for going out there and doing it. We’ve done that a couple of times where we haven’t reached that second goal, this was the first time we changed the goal at halftime and met it.”
A quick 10-0 lead saw the Wildcats with a substantial 57-23 halftime lead. The Wildcats shot 18-36 from the floor which set the tone for the matchup. Sophomore forward Cameron Steele led the Wildcats in scoring at halftime with 12. Each of the 12 Wildcats that played against the Yellow Jackets finished with five or more points.
“I thought in the first half we were kind of just catching it and shooting it,” Tanner said. “In the second half we got a little bit better because we were actually getting inside out threes, we’re getting paint touches and when we can do that we’re pretty good. If we’re just jacking around passing and putting up shots we’ve got to rely strictly on defense.”
Sophomore forward Cameron Steele posted a career-high 18 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes. Steele highlighted a dominant paint presence in which the Wildcats scored 70 of their 112. The Yellow Jackets had six paint points. Another notable Wildcat was freshman guard Jae’Sean Jackson who finished with a career-high 15 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists in 22 minutes.
“The opportunity presented itself in preparation and learning from the other guys of leadership on our team really prepared me for this moment,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we continue to get better moving forward.”
This was the Wildcats final non-Div. I matchup of the season and their largest margin of victory against a non-Div. I opponent. Tanner and the Wildcats offense also posted a season-high in scoring as well with 112 against the Yellow Jackets.
Now the Wildcats flip the page for a Div. I test on Wednesday night. The Longwood Lancers currently stand at 7-4 on the season and most notably lost to the Georgetown Hoyas by nine earlier in the season.
“This is not some gimme that we’re just going to walk into right before Christmas,” Tanner said. “We got a big game in front of us and we’re going to have to be really good defensively to beat them. I know it’s the holidays but if you’re here we need you to come to the Teague Center on Wednesday. This team feels you and we’ve had good crowds but we need to continue that and get another one against Longwood.”
The eight-game homestand for the Wildcats comes to a close on Wednesday as Tanner prepares the Wildcats (8-2) to face the Longwood Lancers (7-4) at the Teague Special Events Center and streaming live on ESPN+ at 7 p.m.