Through the midway point of the season, the AU men’s basketball team (5-10) is finding out how important the little things can be to winning.
The Eagles’ 68-60 loss to Cornell (7-9) Jan. 6 at Bender Arena was a prime example of how failing to finish around the basket, execute defensively on ball screens and win the hustle plays can add up.
“If we can make these significant, but relatively simple improvements and adjustments, you know, we could’ve won that game,” AU head coach Jeff Jones said. “You know, we could’ve won two or three other games that we were in until the very end.”
It has been a problem consistently during the season, which is exactly what happened against Cornell Sunday.
“There were times where I thought we played extremely hard,” Jones said. “But there were other times where I thought Cornell, you know, kind of outhustled us. There were times when we executed extremely well. And then there were times when, maybe, we didn’t.”
Lack of an identity
One of the reasons behind the team’s lack of consistency might be a lack of an identity, an element that the team can look to and say, ‘This is what we hang our hat on; this is what we do best.’
“If we had that identity, then that would mean that we’ve been consistent in a particular area or we’ve excelled in a particular area,” Jones said. “You know, I don’t know that there’s one thing that from start to finish, you know, we’ve been outstanding.”
But with Patriot League play on the horizon, a new factor has emerged for the Eagles.
In his first start of the season Jan. 3 against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Blake Jolivette scored 16 points en route to a 63-49 AU victory. In the loss against Cornell, Jolivette led the team with 15 points.
Jolivette has totaled 31 points in two starts, despite coming off a knee injury that his coach thought would sideline him the entire season.
“[Jolivette] has earned an awful lot of respect from me,” Jones said. “To see how hard he’s worked to get back as quickly as he has, and he certainly has made a positive impact on our team.”
The impact Jolivette has made is in two key areas, the first on the defensive end. The senior allows the Eagles to play more man defense instead of the heavy dose of zone defense they’ve been playing all year out of necessity.
The second area that Jolivette helps the Eagles is on the offensive end. In particular, he can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket.
Jones cautions that Jolivette is by no means the team’s savior, but he should help against Colgate in the Patriot League opener Jan. 12 in Hamilton, N.Y.