Well, that sucked.
Not in terms of effort. Just the ending.
I needed some time to collect myself after this one, hence the later date of publication than usual.
5 Thoughts from something I called a "soul-wrenching" loss:
- The Collapse
That was the score at the 7:52 mark in the second half.
It signaled the under-8 media timeout. It was also the time that Herb Pope picked up his 4th personal foul.
It changed the game. After that moment in time, that timeout, the Pirates got lost. The strategy of running the offense through Pope was abandoned. And so was all hope of winning. If you didn't see this coming, you must have not been paying attention. After 7:52, I saw the inevitable- a total collapse. They could not shoot, and they could not stop Kemba Walker any longer. Jeremy Hazell was non-existent. And it was so disappointing that I did all I could on the baseline broadcasting it for WSOU to not break down.
I called it "soul-wrenching" on Hall Line because it was the first time the Pirates had truly collapsed in recent history. Every other time the Pirates got nipped at the end of a game, they were the team making the comeback while falling just short. This time they had a lead, had the game within their grasp, and blew it. It almost happened against Providence last year in the Big East Tournament. It finally did on one fateful Saturday night.
- Press Notes
I attended the press conference after the game. Jim Calhoun came in first and said how proud he was of his team, which despite its youth was able to fight through and win. He also mentioned Coach Willard, and how he has tremendous respect for him. He also mentioned how it would get "harder and harder to beat him." Great praise from a great coach. Calhoun added the obvious- one made three, one big basket by the Pirates, and the game would have turned out differently.
Coach Willard wasn't asked many questions, but he did say that he was grateful that the Pirates have a week between Big East games for the first time, giving the team a little bit of a rest period before their rematch with Rutgers this coming Saturday. The press was intelligent- they saw the look on his face, and chose not to rehash what clearly affected him deeply. This loss hurt real bad, and the look on his face said all it needed to say.
I thought the defense was superb, especially in the first half, when the Pirates shut down all passage through the lane and forced the Huskies to shoot it from deep. Everything that came in the paint was worked hard for, and for the entire game, the Pirates knew where Walker was at all times. The 2-3 zone was phenomenal in their rotations and helped to shut down the driving lanes. If the Pirates won this game, we'd be talking about the defense as the reason the Pirates won this game.
It was terrific. A huge crowd came to see the highest remaining ranked team come to the Rock, and the Pirates for 32 minutes did not disappoint. SHU recruiting target Kyle Anderson was in attendance, and the student section chanted his name for good measure. The Rock was rocking when the Pirates went up by 14 on a Jeremy Hazell dunk with about 13 minutes remaining, and the student section was packed to the gills. It's the type of game that I love to see if only for the infrequency that I see it. Games like this one are the reason I love basketball- no other sport can boast the same wall-to-wall action and momentum that basketball can.
- Herb Pope
One- he was the reason the Pirates came out and extended their lead out to as many as 14 points in the second half. The offensive gameplan was to feed him the ball in the post. After the Pirates did that, Pope was aggressive with the ball, using a variety of post moves to maneuver around Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu. He also made appropriate decisions about when to be aggressive.
Two- Pope announced that he would return for his senior season after the game. Before the season, when he was asked about the NBA, he said that it didn't matter to him, and it would happen when it happened. This decision really hammers home that statement. The allure of money, especially in his situation, is tantalizing, and to decide to come back is a monumental sacrifice on his part.
Now, can he still change his mind? Of course. But he said that he needed a full, healthy season to really feel confident about going pro, and I for one believe him. His decision means that he will likely be the focal point of the offense next year with Hazell, et al leaving. He now needs to focus on his offensive game and playing defense without fouling. Offensively, he has to finish around the basket. Defensively, his task is to avoid the dumb fouls that have marred his play this year.
The Pirates have a week to digest this tough piece of loss before getting their focus back together to face Rutgers in what amounts to basically a must-win to bounce back and avoid the embarrassment of being swept by their rivals. More on South Orange Juice as the week progresses.