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Hartford shows a mixed bag of maturity in season opener

November 10, 2013 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Saturday’s season-opening 82-77 loss to Quinnipiac was a tale of two halves in more ways than one for Hartford. Although they had some good minutes in the bad half, it wasn’t enough to rally from a 15-point hole they dug themselves and left them heading home trying to look at the bright side from the good half.

The first half was everything Hartford could want. They took advantage of Quinnipiac looking listless at times, moving the ball well at the offensive end to get good shots. Yolonzo Moore looked like a sure all-conference point guard with 15 points on 6-8 shooting, including 3-4 from long range, and he led the good ball movement that produced those shots. Multiple players helped, and they look like a team with a lot of scoring options.

Perhaps most importantly, this junior-laden team responded to every rally Quinnipiac had. After Quinnipiac scored seven straight to cut a 26-13 lead down to six, the Hawks scored the next five to open it back up. Late in the half, they had another response to keep a safe distance and a 42-31 lead as they went into the locker room.

Then it all came crashing down. Quinnipiac scored 11 of the first 13 points in the second half, then took over the game once they grabbed the lead, at one point going up 66-51. The Hawks would rally in part from a press and in part from other mistakes Quinnipiac made, but it was too little too late. Moore scored just seven points and was 2-7 from the field.

They went from having an answer every time to not having one at all.

“I thought we were spectating,” said head coach John Gallagher. “I thought we just were watching them, and we were waiting for somebody on our team to make a play, where in the first half we were Hartford.”

Hartford had chances late, but couldn’t take advantage of them, and that’s something a veteran team that’s been together has to do. It’s a sign that while this team can play like a veteran bunch, there’s still a fair amount of growth needed in that respect.

“I thought we responded in the last eight, but I didn’t think we responded in the first 12,” Gallagher said of the second half.

Hartford has made strides with the junior core of this team over their first two seasons together. Two seasons ago, they struggled to get wins out of the gates but came on during America East play. Last season they won 17 games and scored the first postseason bid in the school’s Division I history. The next step is contending in the conference and winning. While the talent and experience is there, now the intangibles have to kick in. They appeared to in the first half, but not in the second when adversity hit.

The Hawks will have chances right away to improve from this. On Tuesday morning they play at Florida Gulf Coast in a game that is part of the college hoops marathon, then a night later they are at Fairfield. They can move on right away and have a better response to adversity.

As Gallagher noted, nothing is determined in the first game of the season. This is something the Hawks can learn from, and their core has learned a lot from a lot the past two seasons. There is good depth as they had nine players play at least 14 minutes. Now is the time to do it again and turn the corner, and have answers throughout the game the next time around.

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