“At the end of the year, the freshman are already sophomores” is something the college basketball coach cliche machine spits out routinely as we approach late February each season. There’s merit to that. And if it happens, it bodes well for the Dragons, one of the CAA’s youngest teams.
In some ways, the recent, potentially back breaking, loss to Towson was a microcosm of the season. A pick six turnover in the second half, a bigger, more experienced team showing their physicality against the Dragons, an empty DAC not being there to help the team respond. Yet again, there was the tease of a lead, the tease of progress, before ending in despair.
But in some ways it wasn’t. The Dragons did give up the lead, but they also showed some fight to come back and tie. Fans haven’t seen this team answer a punch often this season. The Dragons started to look like they would in this one. And they could have finished the comeback too, with some help, let it be from the fans or themselves. As exemplified by Mate Okros passing when he had a millisecond window of an open shot, many of the young Dragons were not ready to take their shot. Here are the second half lines from the non-Cam Wynter freshman and sophomores in the Towson game:
Bickerstaff: 2 min, 1 turnover
Washington: 3 min
Perry: 3 min, 1 rebound
Juric: 8 min, 1 shot attempt, 1 rebound
Okros: 14 min, 1 shot attempt, 1 rebound
In total: 30 min, 2 shots, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, no points. The Dragons were outscored 43-29 in the half.
In the William and Mary game, where the Dragons had a much stronger second half, the group looked like this:
Bickerstaff: 3 min, 1 rebound
Washington: 13 min, 3/5 from the floor, 10 points
Perry: 9 min, 1/2 from the floor, 3 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, 1 turnover
Juric: 14 min, 1/1 from the floor, 3 ponits, 1 rebound
Okros: 6 min, 1 shot attempt
In total: 45 min, 16 points on 8 shots, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover. The Dragons won the half 38-34.
William and Mary doesn’t have the physicality that Towson has, and the Dragons were coming back for most of the game rather than running scared trying to hold the lead in the game against the Tribe. Additionally, foul trouble forced some of the action in the W&M game, notably Tim Perry’s minutes, when he was thrust into the game to play against an NBA level big for 9 of 20 second half minutes. But none of that is the point.
Not turning the ball over is great improvement. But just 10 shots taken in 75 minutes from this group of players? Sure, Cam has taken over late in games, but that feels out of necessity more than out of choice. And that will happen when you pass someone the ball and they aren’t looking to be aggressive. Okros, Perry, Washington, Juric and Bickerstaff are over half of the nine man rotation. They are high level shooters. But they aren’t taking the shot late in games, they are clamming up when they get punched in the mouth by physical teams, and they just appear “not ready”. Maybe that flash from Coletrane in the Tribe game is a sign of light. And just to be clear of how much of a second half thing this is, here’s the two game totals by half:
1st halves: 83 min, 19 points on 13 shots, 11 boards, 4 assists, 4 turnovers
2nd halves: 75 min, 18 points on 10 shots, 6 boards, 0 assists, 2 turnovers
The Coletrane threes late against William and Mary make those numbers look close, but the number of shots, rebounds and assists (zero??) really scream to the lack of appetite to make a play late in the game.
Hoop-math.com shows us that 68% of the baskets that this quintet have made have been asisted, compared to just 50% from Wynter, Walton and Butler. Or just 63% from Elon’s young core. To make it more clear, 89% of the three’s made by Drexel’s young five have been assisted, compared to 75% from the Wynter, Walton and Butler. Certainly the spread offense is designed to rack up assist, but it’s also designed to prevent help defenders and drive by your man. The Drexel freshman and non-Cam sophomore’s seem to fully get the first part, but they are missing the second. And that is why, at William and Mary and Towson and Elon, the entire opposing team was guarding Cam Wynter on the final possessions, and he never made a bucket – but nor did he pass. Cam needs more help than that, and opposing coaches need to see tape where Drexel’s newest additions are willing to take the ball and be aggressive.
So as the season rounds the corner into the final stretch, if the Dragons want to avoid the play in game and show up to March as a strong contestant, of course they’ll need Wynter, Walton and Butler to do their thing, and Sam Green will play his role and do it well, but they’ll also need a supporting cast of winners. And, well…