Remember this Stat–93.3 % This will be very important as the Hoyas head into conference play. No, it isn’t the collective GPA of the team after first semester finals, which ended Friday (that might be higher :-)). It is the Hoyas’ free throw percentage against the Charlotte 49ers in the second half, going 14 for 15 at the line, and it was critical in eking out a win at Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon. The Hoyas are 7-3 as they head to New York to meet the Indiana Hoosiers at the Garden on 12-27. On Saturday the Hoosiers took down Butler, 82-73, in a close and hard fought contest at Butler’s home in Indianapolis.
The Tale of Two Halves, Within Each Half! In each half the Hoyas surged then faded. Once leading by 14 in the first half, Charlotte (6-5) went on a 7-0 run to get to single digits at the half, 38-31. The teams entered the half with the momentum clearly on Charlotte’s side. The Hoyas came out of the break, after some halftime entertainment from the area’s Team Mascots, with great energy and on fire and again pulled away to a 60-44 advantage. The persistent 49ers used another run to close the gap to 70-63. As the Hoyas went cold, Charlotte’s Braxton Ogbueze hit consecutive 3s to pull within 2 (77-75) with 3:13 to go. Keyshawn Woods scored a bucket with 8.6 seconds remaining in the game leaving the Hoyas with a 79-78 advantage. Unable to hold onto comfortable leads due largely to a heavy reliance on the outside shot and the inability to get the ball inside, the Hoyas instead relied on points at the charity stripe in the final 30 seconds to close out the game. Aaron Bowen’s and L.J. Peak’s perfection at the line in the final minute, and Charlotte’s missed field goal attempt, sealed the victory for the Hoyas. Woods led all Charlotte scorers with 16 points.
Team Malaise, with Exceptions: How to assess the Hoyas’ performance on Saturday? Hopefully the team played with a Finals Hangover and aced all their exams in the last week. This game was all too reminiscent of the Heart Attack Hoyas of years past! In each half, just when it appeared that the Hoyas were taking control and would pull away, either the Hoyas lost their touch or Charlotte regained theirs. At moments it seems the team would lose focus, allow Charlotte an easy bucket or fall asleep on D. Defense was an issue on Saturday, yielding too many idea open looks to Charlotte, who knocked enough down to scare the Hoya faithful, shooting better both from the field (46%) and the 3-point line (38%) than the home team (Hoyas, 39& and 35%). The ultimate edge came at the free throw line, and while Charlotte hit more free throws (24 to 23), the Hoyas bested the 49ers in percentage made (77% to 72% for the game). The Hoyas also had the rebounding edge, 43 to 32.
Heroes of the Game: Freshman guard L.J. Peak and senior leader Jabril Trawick were critical to putting this one in the Win column. Peak again belied his freshman status and finished with 18 points, 5 for 12 from the field, 1 for 3 from 3-point line and a perfect 7 for 7 from the free throw line. Another nod to “reserve” Aaron Bowen, whom Coach JTIII seems to put in the game when the Hoyas need help. Another effort suggesting AB deserves more time in conference play? Bowen finished with 11 points in 17 minutes, went 3 for 6 from the field, hit his only 3, grabbed 4 rebounds, went 4 for 4 from the line, had a steal and hit his free throws in the final minute. Trawick had a double-double, adding 11 points and 10 rebounds for Georgetown with 3 assists. DSR is improving at the new point guard role, had 13 points in 31 minutes, and was perfect at the foul line. Yet he continues to struggle from outside, going 4 for 11 from the field and 1-4 from the 3-point line. That may work itself out in time as he transitions from his former role as scorer to current role as point guard and scorer. Frankly, the team now requires DSR’s point guard skills more than his shooting skills, thanks in large part to the infusion of new talent this season.
Charlotte Not a Cupcake: Make no mistake, the 49ers were not just a tasty cupcake. They entered the game with a significantly higher RPI (as much as you pay attention to it) than the Hoyas. On Friday night, their fellow Conference USA member UTEP took #3 Arizona down to the wire as the Wildcats eventually pulled away, only in the final minutes, to a 60-55 victory.
Three Concerns as the Hoyas Head to New York to Face the Hoosiers, and in Conference Play:
1. Big Man U, Reconstituted? While fans have a lot to be grateful for in the Super Freshmen who enrolled on the Hilltop this fall, they are all shooting forwards (Peak, Paul White and Isaac Copeland) and a guard (Tre Campbell). Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins, while playing relatively well in the non-conference schedule, must play better and more consistently as we face our strong BIG EAST foes. Smith finished yesterday with 12 points in 21 minutes, going 4 for 7 from the field and hitting 4 of 4 free throws, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 4 fouls. Fouls remain a concern for Smith. Hopkins struggled to contribute against Charlotte, finishing with 2 points and 4 fouls. Is there a weak team in the BIG EAST, I ask, when Marquette and Georgetown have the most losses to date? JTIII played Bradley Hayes for limited minutes yesterday and he is our only other Big Man Option–at this point. Is Hayes ready to face the Bigs of the BIG EAST or will he spend the conference season on the sideline? What the Hoyas need to succeed in conference is to have Smith and Hopkins lift their game so that the Hoyas may threaten both from inside and out.
2. How Far Can the Three Ball Take Us?: The Flip Side of Concern #1 is if our inside big man game isn’t going, can the Hoyas be saved by their sharpshooters? At this point it is unclear how much the Hoyas will be able to rely on junior DSR as a sharpshooter, as he has been struggling from outside all season. If DSR doesn’t pick up his game, do the Hoyas have sufficient firepower among the freshmen overachievers Peak, White and Copeland, sophomore Reggie Cameron and senior Bowen?
3. Point Guard Play: DSR and Trawick have been carrying the load and while DSR is improving in the role as point guard, neither is a true point guard. The only true point guard on this team, freshman Tre Campbell, has seen substantial time in the non-conference schedule and is improving. However, the question is how Campbell will fare against the great, seasoned guards of the BIG EAST and whether he is ready for prime time or whether he will be relegated to the bench. With presses being thrown at the team, we will need all guards to handle the rock like a fine gem and avoid sloppy turnovers.
Thanks to all of the local professional team Mascots for an entertaining Halftime Show with non-canine mascot Jack the Bulldog!
No thanks to the Officiating. You won’t find me calling foul against referees all season long because that is simply counterproductive and part of the game. However, on Saturday the refs were blowing “anticipatory whistles”. We all know the “late whistle” that comes several seconds after a foul. In this game, the whistles were sounding before the actual “offense” as the refs seemed to be predicting, sometimes incorrectly, what would happen next.
Please Stay tuned to LaurasProminentPlay for more analysis and insight during the holiday season. I’ll look forward to covering more hoops, the Hoyas and other college matchups and Bowl games as we enjoy this season.
Wishing all of my readers a joyous holiday season, Merry Christmas, continued Happy Hanukkah and a Happy 2015! Stay tuned, and follow me on Twitter @laurasprominentplay and like us on FaceBook.
To my fellow Hoyas, keep the faith and Hoya Saxa!!