Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Day After: George Washington University 69, Boston University 59

Yesterday's game, technically speaking, was not the beginning of the Terriers' season. That came on Friday against Iona, and it was an up-and-down, back-and-forth street fight of a contest, one where Iona's pressure proved too much for a depleted team and its new head coach to overcome. It was sloppy at times, it was marred by poor shooting and widespread foul trouble, but it was also fast-paced and exciting. The performances of Tyler Morris and Carlos Strong, when juxtaposed with the surprisingly inefficient play of John Holland and Corey Lowe, fueled hope the team's fortunes would improve quickly once Holland and Lowe regained their usual form.

The stage was set for yesterday evening: a home opener at Agganis Arena complete with fan giveaways, a familiar opponent, and four days to make adjustments fixing the problems caused by aggressive defenses and capable athletes. Better yet, Lowe and Holland woke up on the right side of the bed, recapturing their offensive prowess. The Terriers' dynamic duo combined for 45 points. A third offensive presence would certainly be enough to push BU over the hump and give head coach Patrick Chambers his first career win.

That extra piece the Terriers needed was nowhere to be found last night. When Lowe and Holland found success by getting to the rim and the free throw line in the second half, the final push that sparks a run or gives a brief rally more extended life remained noticeably absent. No other Terrier provided more than five points. Apart from Holland, who played 37 minutes off the bench and sat for all of 12 seconds after entering the game at 17:37 of the first half, Terrier reserves produced zero points. For the second consecutive game, only five BU players showed up in the scoring column.

Once again, poor offensive output obscured some positive developments. BU's defense took a step in the right direction, holding GW under a point per possession despite extensive end-of-game fouling in an attempt to prolong the game. Ball control improved somewhat, from 22 turnovers down to 18. Several of the Terriers' giveaways occurred in situations where players were pressured and arrived at a decision but didn't make that decision as quickly or definitively as a player fully comfortable with the offensive system. As Terrier personnel continue to adapt and absorb the principles and details of Chambers' offense and defense, improvement should follow.

Disappointment in the result is only natural. Players, coaches, administrators, and fans want to win. Winning has yet to arrive, and judging by the difficult teams on BU's upcoming schedule, continued improvement might not translate into wins for some time. A thin roster and surprisingly poor shooting only accentuate the obvious: this team is not firing on all cylinders. In that light, real frustration from the observer's perspective doesn't originate with the loss -- it originates from the realization that on-court success, should it arrive, will do so at a date and time yet unknown. The buildup of hype and expectations makes waiting more unpleasant.

For now, though, attention is directed to Puerto Rico, where the Terrier faithful hope tropical warmth can defrost the team's ice-cold shooting.

-- Terrific twosome: As previously noted, Lowe and Holland powered the Terriers' offense. In the second half, they were the offense. Lowe and Holland produced 37 points after the break, single-handedly keeping BU in the game.
-- Undersized rebounders: In large part out of necessity, the Terriers look to their wings and guards to contribute on the boards. Strong pulled down nine rebounds; Holland led the team with 11.
-- Defense: George Washington scored 69 points in a 74-possession game. Factor in the Terriers' extended fouling down the stretch, and what's left is an excellent defensive performance. Before BU began fouling with 2:06 remaining, the Colonials had scored 55 points in 64 offensive possessions, for an offensive efficiency of 85.9. That's a good job by the BU defense.

-- Offensive imbalance: This was particularly noticeable in the second half, as BU's complementary threats completely disappeared. Carlos Strong had a tip-in with 9:43 left; that would be the only offensive help Lowe and Holland received after halftime.
-- Turnovers: BU improved in this category, but 18 turnovers in 74 possessions is still too many, particularly for a veteran team taking a lot of quick shots.
-- Poor shooting: It's related to offensive imbalance -- to a significant degree, it's the cause of the offensive imbalance -- but for whatever reason, BU can't shoot right now. The Terriers attempted 27 threes, making just five. Open shots need to start falling.

Off and running?
Chambers' scheme will take time to implement

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