Drives to the basket and free throw shots helped men’s basketball chip away at Saint Louis’ lead in the final minutes of a game last week, but the last-minute push wasn’t enough to overcome the Billikens.
The Colonials (6-10, 0-3 A-10) have walked away with marginal losses at the buzzer during their past three Atlantic 10 games, making a comeback in the final minute that has placed them within five points of winning each time. Head coach Jamion Christian said the squad’s ability to focus on its game supersedes wins and losses, making them more “dangerous” for future games.
The last time the Colonials’ opened their conference slate 0-3 was in 2008-09 when the squad ended the season with just four A-10 wins and an 11-18 overall record.
“You can play great and lose a game,” Christian said after the game against Saint Louis. “You can play bad and win a game. It’s not really about that for us. It’s really just about us staying locked in what we’ve got to do and trying to learn how to play at our very best that allows us to be at our best when our best is required.”
The Colonials have battled St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Duquesne in their first conference games of the season, dropping each contest by five points. The team’s 61.7 points per game in conference play ranks it 12th in the A-10, but the Colonials have battled back from deficits as large as 17 to create two-possession games.
Each of the squad’s losses has been at the hands of inconsistency. Against St. Bonaventure, the team could not sustain its defensive prowess in the second half and let a halftime lead slip away.
On the road at Saint Louis, the Colonials missed open layups and allowed the Billikens to net 15 second-chance points on a few missed box-outs. Against Duquesne, play-calling confusion between Christian and the team on the court let a one-possession game turn into a two-possession loss.
Christian said the team needs to learn and grow every day to better itself incrementally throughout the season if players want to capture a title in March.
“If we continue to have a growth mindset and learn from our experiences, we’ve got the chance to be a really special team,” Christian said. “No team right now is set to win the title today and the team that can learn the most about themselves right now and adjust from it has the best chance to hoist that banner up at the end of the year.”
Christian has stayed consistent with his starting lineup throughout each game, relying on junior guard Maceo Jack, sophomore guard Amir Harris and a trio of freshmen in guard Jameer Nelson Jr., forward Chase Paar and forward Jamison Battle.
Christian said he makes frequent substitutions in conference matchups to “keep guys fresh,” reaching for senior forward Arnaldo Toro and redshirt senior guard Armel Potter for an average of 21.3 and 35 minutes off the bench, respectively.
He added that the veteran leadership of Potter has been instrumental in leading the team by example on the hardwood. Potter averages seven assists and 11.7 points per game in A-10 play. In tight games, Christian trusts Potter to handle the ball as the clock ticks down.
“Potter does an unbelievable job of leading our guys on the floor and really being a guy that can battle,” Christian said after the game against Duquesne. “He’s got a great determination for helping our team.”
Battle said the team has the vigor to win games, but its biggest issue lies in tightening up its play.
“Once we figure out the little things, what we need to work on, I think we just have that fight and have the things we need to do and we’ll be a really good team,” Battle said after the game against Duquesne.
Battle continues to be a bright spot for the Colonials throughout conference play. The big man logs a team-leading 36 minutes per conference matchup and is pacing the squad with an average of 19.3 points against A-10 competition.
He converts 41 percent of his shots from the field and connects on 36.4 percent of his attempts from deep.
Battle said Christian’s system is “perfect” for him. He added that constant encouragement from his teammates has pushed him to take more shots.
“I know Maceo always says it, tells me that I’m a great shooter,” Battle said after the game against Duquesne. “Every time we talk on the floor he says that to me, so I think it’s just the confidence level my teammates bring and the confidence level coach brings is something that keeps me going.”
Christian said the team hasn’t fully reached its potential on the court, but its resiliency and connectivity are the marks of a “great team.”
“I just appreciate being around a group of guys that just keep fighting and they keep leaning on one another and I think as we tie that in with our ability to execute, I think we’re going to be a really tough team,” Christian said after the game against Duquesne. “We’re not where we want to be at today, but that resiliency – great teams have that – and we have a lot of that.”
The Colonials are back in action Wednesday as they take on George Mason in the Revolutionary Rivalry. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.