Hot-shooting Owls hit the road with share of first place

Jan. 18—As Kennesaw State heads out on a two-game Florida trip tied for first place in the ASUN standings, it will look to start separating itself from the rest of the conference.

The Owls (13-6, 5-1) will face Stetson on Thursday in a matchup of two of the four first-place teams in the conference, then head to Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.

If Kennesaw State can pick up two wins, it would be 7-1 in conference with 10 games to play. The other teams tied at the top are Eastern Kentucky, which the Owls have already beaten, and Liberty, which the Owls will host Feb. 16 in their only meeting of the regular season.

While Kennesaw State, which has already equaled its win total from last season and is within one win of the program's best in any Division I season (14-18 in 2016-17), fourth-year coach Amir Abdur-Rahim said he and his players are not looking at who is in what place just yet.

There are a lot of other goals that are still out there to be accomplished.

"We had a meeting Monday, and I asked the guys, 'Who's end goal is to be tied for first place on (Jan. 17)?'" Abdur-Rahim said. "Nobody's hand went up. I asked, 'Who's end goal was to have a 10-game winning streak at home?' Nobody's hand went up.

"We haven't reached our goals yet. Right now, the focus is still on us. If we do that, there's no telling how far we can go."

If the Owls can keep shooting the ball like they have been recently, it may be able to go far. During its current three-game winning streak, Kennesaw State is shooting 56.4% (93-of-165) from the floor and 40.7% (22-of-54) from behind the arc.

Guard Chris Youngblood has led the way, averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting 48.2% from the floor and 45.6% from 3. Former Campbell High School standout Terrell Burden is averaging 11.9 points, shooting 50.3%, while center Demond Robinson is having a breakout year on the offensive end, shooting 51.3% and averaging 10.5 points.

While the shooting numbers are great, Abdur-Rahim points to the average number of assists per game. For the season, the Owls are averaging 15.1 per game, with that number up to 17 over the last three games, including a 20-assist game against North Florida on Saturday.

"It means we're sharing the ball," Abdur-Rahim said. "Nobody cares who scores the basket, and we're doing a great job of finding that person who has the open shot."

Abdur-Rahim said the success the team is having right now is leading to a lot of fun on the court, especially after the first two years of his tenure, when the Owls won a combined six games. Although Abdur-Rahim said the team has always had fun, the age and experience of the players is now matching their talent level.

"What allows it to be fun now is we enjoy a win for 18 or 24 hours, but then our mindset is to get back to work," Abdur-Rahim said.