Final Score: La Salle 79, Drexel 54
Player of the Game: Kazembe Abif
Key to the Game: Defense
Next Game: Saturday, December 19 vs Penn State (Palestra)
Back to square one.
Each game this season, including the Dragons lone win, called out for two things which mean nothing apart and everything when combined: Trust and Focus.
Last year Coach Flint talked about Damion Lee playing "hero ball", forcing up shots and looking to create when there was nothing there. This years version of the Dragons lost their hero, and mentally they don't seem to have gotten past it. Whenever the tide seems to run against the Dragons, Tavon Allen tries to step up and shoots on consecutive possessions. In today's example, after the Gamecocks scored 9 straight out of the half, Allen took 3 of the next 4 shots, with the only other shot being a stickback attempt by Tyshawn Myles when he rebounded an Allen miss. Then there is Terrell Allen going off script through the paint with a behind the back pass that landed in a defenders hands. While Terrell's creativity should be encouraged, there might be such a thing as too far.
Those small examples pale in comparison to what is going on at the other end of the court. Everyone on the defensive end seems to be cheating much too far off of their man in an effort to help their teammates. They get caught out of position and have to put their hands out to stay in front of their man, an easy whistle. While defense may be about effort, man to man defense is much more about trust. If you have faith in your teammates you don't cheat to help. If you don't cheat to help you don't get caught out of position. When everyone is trying so hard to help their teammates, they're not helping anyone. That right there is the secret to the Dragons season, and yes it's best answered by my favorite coach: "Do Your Job". So simple. Focus on you and what is in front of you, and if each man does that individually, you will have your defense when you play man to man.
That same focus, the attempt to do to much is there on the offensive end and it rears its ugly head with seemingly each and every turnover. A walk when they think they can push pace, a bad pass when they try to force a ball through, and as always with Bruiser's teams, shot selection, shot selection, shot selection (the team is taking even more 2pt jumpers than they did last year).
Perhaps it's the hole that the departing hero left in this roster. Perhaps its the struggle that has been the early season, but it's time to stop being a hero and start trusting the team and trusting the system. Because there is good news to come out of this - the offensive numbers this season are about average for a Bruiser squad. 228th ranked in the country is about right with what he does. In the 2010-11 season, their offense ranked 264th in the country and the team went 21-10. This is all one needs to show that the issue here isn't a talent issue. It is an issue of trust and focus. Bruiser can't fix a talent issue, but a mental issue on the defensive side? This should be fixable. This defense is ranked 204th in the country, the 3rd worst defense in Bruiser's 15 seasons at Drexel. He can fix defense. But coach, maybe sooner than later, please?
Rodney Williams was also hurt in this contest as the injury bug refuses to leave, but without the rest of his team coming together, Rodney's being on or off the court only creates a difference in how bad this team is. We will wait for a report and hope the return of Ahmad Fields also helps. But this is not a time for heroes to come off the bench. It's time for a team to rally together.
Note: Both the Gamecocks taking care of business against a dreadful opponent and the play of Kazembe Abif deserves praise that didn't fit into the above. Kaz can be where this whole thing starts. He may not lead with his voice, but his calmness, intuitiveness and shot selection can be a whole lot of leading by example. It's time to build around the guy who is doing things the right way.