Plagued by second-half woes, the Slippery Rock men’s basketball team (1-3) dropped a non-conference contest with the University of the District of Columbia (2-2) Saturday afternoon 64-59 at home. Second half turnovers and shooting droughts squandered a seven-point halftime lead for The Rock.
Redshirt junior forward Micah Till’s all-around dominant effort – 24 points, six rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals – was not enough to overcome a lack of scoring from key secondary players and trouble dealing with the press defense from the Firebirds.
“I have to do a better job putting them in positions and preparing them in practice for different game time scenarios and also I think that we, as a collective group, need to focus in and give more consistent effort to finish off plays,” Slippery Rock’s acting coach Ian Grady said. “I think it was there at times just not 100 percent of the time.”
Fresh off his 38-point effort against Carlow University, junior guard Jared Armstrong was unable to get in rhythm with only nine points on three of eight shooting. Freshman guard Amante Britt experienced some growing pains with only four points on two of 13 shooting. Besides Till, no Rock athlete was able to crack double digits in scoring.
Not just disrupting the Green and White’s rhythm from the field, the Firebirds’ full-court press defense forced a season-high 21 turnovers. Only one player, freshman guard Nik Cazacu, did not commit a turnover against the Firebirds’ relentless pressure.
“Not well,” said a frustrated Grady, regarding the Firebirds’ defense. “We have got to do a much better job of handling that pressure. That starts with me, I’ve got to do a better job preparing them at practice to handle that kind of pressure.”
Despite the second-half struggles – shooting a paltry 32% from the field and missing all six attempts from beyond the arc – The Rock trailed by just two points with 1:47 remaining in the second half after redshirt senior forward Vinny Lasley hit the front end of a one and one free throw attempt.
Losing two close games to begin the season against Notre Dame College and Fairmont State University by a combined five points, Grady had hoped that those two games would have prepared his team a little better for tight games that are decided in the closing minutes.
“I hope so. I thought that the first two games did,” Grady admitted. “I’m not so confident that this game helped other than maybe from a wake-up standpoint. I was disappointed in the effort today, whereas in the first two games last weekend I thought the guys battled and gave great effort. We had too many spurts throughout this game where we didn’t give great effort.”
Missing the second half of the one and one left the Firebirds’ lead at two points, and The Rock was unable to close the gap as missed shots and fouls increased the deficit to five points. The five-point deficit when the buzzer rang handed the Green and White their worst loss of the season.
Till, the Green and White’s unquestioned No. 1 offensive option, did not attempt a shot in the final five minutes of the game despite 17 second-half points on just one missed shot. Instead, the offense seemed to run through Britt. Despite missing a number of shots in the closing minutes of the game, Britt soaked in invaluable experience in a contest that will have no impact on Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference play later in the season.
Grady was nothing but complementary toward the freshman rotation of Britt, Cazacu, guard Jason Fowlkes and forward Will Bounds. The quartet played 40 combined minutes and Britt picked up his fourth start in as many games.
“We were very happy with the freshmen class. I think they’re all very talented student-athletes and I think that they will continue to have a big role in the team,” Grady said.
Encouraging development of his freshman players and the continued excellence from Till aside, the tough loss had Grady searching for answers following the third loss in four games to begin the season.
“I met with the team after the game and had a meeting with a few of them individually just to try to get a pulse of the team. To get their ideas of what we have to do to get better as a unit, not just from a playing standpoint but a coaching standpoint.”
An away matchup with nationally recognized Daemen College next weekend will provide The Rock a chance to show their resolve and ability to adjust as the long season progresses. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. in Amherst, New York.