First of all – to the awesome father/son/daughter/friend I met at Murphy’s today while enjoying my Irish coffee before tip off, I hope you enjoyed the game and it was a pleasure meeting you!
This is an interesting game for a couple reasons. We lost in some of the most frustrating ways imaginable (more on that later) and to add insult to injury it was a game we could have won in many different ways. That sucked. But at the same time it’s a game that taught us a lot about where this team is as a collective group and where we need to get to – and it was very positive. This was a tough one to digest, but there’s a lot to take away from it.
Alright, let’s get to this.
Free throws: it’s very simple, we make our free throws down the stretch we win the game. This was an interesting moment in the game for one reason and one reason only – it showed our mental toughness (or how it’s still building). Cooley mentioned that the team needs to practice winning in his press conference, and that what we saw was a team that knows how to win vs a team learning how to win. I think this is a fair assessment on the two teams – two guys on their team played the full 45 minutes, but the difference is those two guys were seniors. They came up big when they needed to, and our guys who are younger played the same amount of minutes but couldn’t convert free throws down the stretch because mentally they’re not prepared to hit those shots. The line stays the same, the hoop doesn’t move, they don’t change the ball, but the pressure and atmosphere is totally different and that made the difference between our normally automatic free throw shooters making vs missing.
Improvement: Even though we lost this game today in the hardest way possible we saw a lot of improvement. Bilal had another big game, Coleman played out of his mind, and both Bryce and Henton came up big. More importantly though, this team is playing like a collective unit and really depending on one another. At the beginning of the season everyone understood that this would be a tough season to get through and that the losses would come, but as long as improvement was there it’d be okay. I think today was a day where we saw a good amount of improvement. As Cooley put it “we improved but we’re not over the hump yet” and that pretty much sums up how I see it. Considering how badly we played last year against this team with a first round draft pick I’d say that a three point loss in overtime is not a bad way to go. But…
We should have won this game: Note that I am not saying this because I think we deserve it or whatever. We should have won it because we had it and we stopped playing to win and played to not lose. The difference with that is the difference between having your foot on someone’s throat when they’re down after a fight. You can crush it and finish them off Mortal Kombat style or you can let them off the hook.
We eased off the gas, and that’s probably more to do with the fact that we’re demanding a lot from young players who don’t have any support from the bench (not to mention three of them are allegedly sick with food poisoning). What the biggest concern now is we go right from this game to Nova with almost no breathing time at all, so while we might’ve seemed gassed out now Nova will prove to be a much bigger challenge. Make no mistake though, if we’d won this in regulation we’d have been much more mentally prepared for Nova.
This was the most emotionally draining loss so far: Forget Seton Hall, St. Johns, Pitt, whatever team you wanna think up – this was the toughest loss to swallow. For some reason we never seem to like WVU – maybe it’s because they’re fans can be extremely rude when they come, maybe it’s the whole Big 12 sue Big East thing, maybe it’s because their coach wears the professional equivalent of pajama pants and a hoodie to coach games and he has a guy like Randy from Trailer Park Boys
Whatever the reason we just don’t seem to like them. That all seemed to be tossed out today because this loss wasn’t just “we hate them they beat us” it’s that this game was so well played and so exciting that you hate to see it go down the way it did. But, at the same time, I can’t help but feel optimistic about these games in the future. With a deeper and more talented bench these aren’t three point losses in OT, these are 13 point wins in regulation. It will happen and waiting for it sucks but the day will come. Keep your head up Friar town, better days are on the way and today was the first game of marked improvement towards that promise land.