CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – We’ll have more a little later on Boston College, who advanced to New York with an 82-70 win over St. John’s in the nightcap on Tuesday in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They will take on Purdue in one semifinal, while UAB and Oklahoma won later in the evening and will meet in the other. But first, some notes on the other three teams that played at The Heights the past couple of nights.
Head Coach, or Head Manager?
With both his athletic director and MAAC commissioner Richard Ensor looking on, it seemed like Loyola (Md.) head coach Jimmy Patsos basically took himself out of the game against Cornell after he got hit with a technical foul near the halfway point of the first half. At halftime, he was never in his team’s huddle before they headed to the court, and he sat next at the end of the bench for most of the second half, rarely getting into the huddle in the timeouts. He sat closer to the managers than to his staff, and at one point he went into the stands during the game to talk to his athletic director.
After the game, Patsos, who has built the program from being a 1-27 laughingstock into a winner in the MAAC, said it wasn’t quite what it appeared.
“I was told that if I said one more word, that I was going to get thrown out of the arena,” said the fifth-year head coach, who added that he was not given a warning before the technical foul. “I do what I’m told. I said, okay, I won’t say one more word. I can’t afford to be thrown out and embarrass the school.
“I just thought, maybe I deserved a warning.”
The trip was a homecoming for Patsos, who grew up south of Boston in Scituate. He took his team to see Newbury Street, the Boston Public Library and the first subway system while they were in the area, which considering the crammed game schedule they have had to face is an accomplishment. The Greyhounds played two games in three days before this trip, which means by Tuesday they had played three games in as many days and four in five days due to circumstances that weren’t entirely in their control.
After winning 19 games last season, a school record in Division I, the Greyhounds have a tall task ahead in trying for a fourth consecutive winning season. They have three seniors but play a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and they looked the part of a young team in their two games at Conte Forum. They’re not lacking athleticism, but it’s clear their identity is far from being determined right now.
“We’re 1-3, but we’re young, we’re playing hard,” said Patsos. “I don’t have a go-to guy. It’s okay, I knew we were going to be young. We have some players coming in, we’re going to get older.”
The Geryhounds will travel to Charlotte next week for two more consolation games against James Madison and Davidson (which hosts).
It’s Not About Winning Now
Cornell has to go without two of their perimeter starters due to injury, so they certainly take a hit from a talent and experience standpoint. Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Louis Dale is currently out with a mild hamstring injury, while senior Adam Gore is out at least for the non-conference schedule after tearing his ACL late in the summer.
Head coach Steve Donohue said Dale could have played, but they’re holding him out so he can get fully healthy. While they would like to win some games in non-league play, that isn’t what matters to the defending Ivy League champs. Donohue thinks Dale may be two weeks away from being in a place where it would be optimal to play.
“I think if this was an Ivy League weekend, he would have never sat out,” said Donohue. “With that being said, he may be two weeks away from risking it. There’s no reason to risk it right now, and we have so many games right now, we need 3-4 straight days in practice where he can go 20 minutes, the next day 30 minutes, the next day 40 minutes, and so on.”
The injuries leave junior sharpshooter Ryan Wittman as the only starter on the perimeter currently playing, and he almost carried the Big Red on Monday night before quietly leading them to their 82-72 win over Loyola (Md.) on Tuesday. Wittman scored 25 points, including 16 in the first half as he kept the Big Red in the game and got them the lead at times. He wasn’t quite as sharp in Tuesday, but still had 24 points.
“He does have to do a little more, and he’s taken harder shots this year,” Donohue said of Wittman. “He’s such a high percentage shooter, it’s almost to the point where I want him to take harder shots. He has to for us to be really good. He needs 15-20 looks a game, he needs to get to the foul line.”
The injuries give players like Jason Battle, Geoff Reeves and freshman Chris Wroblewski a chance to play more and have a bigger role right now, and there were some bright spots among them. Reeves has started all three games thus far and is averaging 35 minutes per game, and while he had six turnovers in the two games, he scored 20 points and looks to be developing into a better player. Wroblewski played well in the two games, handing out 10 assists with just four turnovers in 53 minutes.
That will help since the Big Red has a brutal stretch coming up. After next week’s two consolation games, they have road games at Indiana, Syracuse and Minnesota, a home date with Atlantic 10 contender La Salle, then head to Saint Joseph’s.
Big man Jeff Foote has put on some good weight since last season and had two night games in the stat sheet. He went for a combined 39 points and 15 rebounds, and he could have had more points if not for a few times he didn’t finish strong and missed shots he probably could have made. While the Big Red appear to have some good depth on the perimeter, that may not be the case up front as Brian Kreefer was the only reserve post player to see any action.
Cornell will play two more consolation games at St. John’s next week against Loyola (Ill.) and Eastern Michigan.
St. John’s Has Some Positives
As young as Loyola (Md.) is, St. John’s isn’t exactly a team full of seniors, either. The Red Storm start four sophomores alongside senior Anthony Mason, Jr., and eight sophomores and two freshmen are among the players who play appreciable or significant minutes.
Mason had a big game (24 points) in Monday’s win, especially in the early going, but other than a few plays on Tuesday night he was relatively ineffective with 12 points on 3-13 shooting (he did have six assists). Head coach Norm Roberts said he missed about a week of practice leading up to their season opener with a problem in his foot, and thought it might have bothered him Tuesday night with the team’s second game in less than 24 hours.
“I think his foot is bothering him, and I thought you could tell that by the way he was running, but he wanted to stay out there and tough it out,” said Roberts. “He’s going to be fine, but I think that limited him a little bit.”
The transition game led the Red Storm to Monday’s win, and they got it going for a time against Boston College on Tuesday night. With the athletes they have, it looks like that will be a real key for them this season, but another factor leading to it will also be one: rebounding. The Red Storm got a solid double-double from Justin Burrell (11 points, 11 rebounds) in Monday’s win, but he had just two boards in Tuesday’s loss and the frontcourt starters had just 12 total as the Eagles had a 42-28 edge on the glass.
“When you rebound it, you can get out and you can go, and we didn’t rebound it very well,” said Roberts. “And not only our big guys, our guards didn’t rebound it.”
Two more sophomores, D.J. Kennedy and Malik Boothe, were barometers of the team’s success. Both had an excellent game on Monday but struggled on Tuesday, with Boothe saddled with foul trouble that hurt him defending Tyrese Rice later in the game.
Overall, Roberts likes what he sees from his young guys. There’s clearly some potential in this group, with the toughness of Boothe and Burrell, the versatility of Kennedy and inside bodies like Sean Evans and Dele Coker.
“I think they’re progressing well. I think they’re all getting better,” said Roberts. “They’re really, really good kids and they want to do everything we ask them to do, and they want to get better. That’s a big, big key. As long as we keep doing this and gaining some confidence, we can get better and better as a team.”
St. John’s will host one of the consolation round pods next week and will take on Eastern Michigan and Loyola (Ill.).