The Cougars suffered a narrow loss against the Omaha Mavericks on Saturday. Throughout the game, there were many points where the Cougars seemed to be making a comeback, yet they lost 63-65.
Throughout most of the first half, the Cougars trailed roughly 15 points behind the Mavericks. But by halftime, the Cougars had regained some ground, and the score was 24-35. While they were still losing, the Cougars were shortening the gap.
“They really played hard. They were flying around. We were down 15, 17 early. And then to our guys’ credit, they just kind of figured it out, and they cut [the Mavericks’ lead] to 11 at half,” Head Coach Brian Barone said. “[The Mavericks] are extremely well-coached, [their coach has] been there around 18 years, and we just weren’t able to overcome it in the end, unfortunately.”
However, the Cougars seemed eager to turn the game around in the second half, and after just three minutes past halftime, the score was 33-35.
The message to the team after halftime, according to Barone, was to look for better shots on offense, focus on the fundamentals and be more aggressive on defense.
“Really, that just wasn’t who we are. You look at it, it felt like we were down significantly more, but it was only an 11 point game,” Barone said. “The message was pretty simple. I thought we took some bad shots in the first half, but we missed some wide-open layups and it was weird.”
Throughout the second half, the Cougars and Mavericks pushed against each other, trying to take and hold the lead.
Barone said leads were hard to maintain, but the Cougars put some real effort in.
“If you look at it, we were up three, or two, maybe four times, and I think they hit a three every time,” Barone said.
Sophomore forward Lamar Wright got two chances to secure points through free throws in the last six minutes. Both times, Wright’s free throws gave the Cougars the lead, but the Mavericks would then quickly regain it.
Earlier in the second half, Wright had missed a free throw, but Barone said Wright came back from it with confidence.
“He did a really good job, went out there with confidence. Lamar missed the two, but he came back and buried two big ones, and he made some good defensive plays,” Barone said. “It’s just part of our growth. He did a really good job making some plays when we needed to, just not the ones at the end to completely stop them.”
In the last three minutes, approximately five timeouts were called between the Cougars and the Mavericks as each team looked to secure the lead with an incredibly close score during the game’s final minutes.
Barone said holding a strong lead against the Mavericks was difficult, despite the Cougars’ hard work.
“[We need] to make the plays we need to make and the stops we need to get stopped, when we were up three, when we were up two, but we couldn’t get that last stop, unfortunately,” Barone said.
Barone said the message to the team was focused on being aggressive, and getting out there.
“The message was just execute and be aggressive, take care of the ball, all that kind of stuff. I think we got a layup out of one, we got a wide-open shot on another one and another one they just guarded well,” Barone said. “As a coach, those are kind of things you try to prepare your team for. At the end of the day, the guys need to go make plays, and those are the guys that make more plays than I ever did as a player, and ever will as a coach, and I’m completely trusting of our guys to do the right thing.”
With 24 seconds remaining on the clock, the Mavericks fouled senior guard Mike Adewunmi, which gave him a chance at a free throw. Adewunmi scored both shots, and tied the game up at 63.
However, with one second left on the clock, the Mavericks dunked the last basket of the game, leaving the Cougars with a 63-65 loss.
Barone said the Mavericks were a tough team with tough players, like senior forward Matt Pile.
“I think what Pile did is … he ducked us in. I’d have to look at it again, but I think we gambled. He got us on his back, and then we gambled, and he was too deep for our rotation, and he obviously finished what you need to finish in a college basketball game,” Barone said. “I would say the ball pressure probably wasn’t where it needed to be to have a direct line of pass from the top, and then obviously the post defense was just out of position, unfortunately.”
Regardless of this loss, Barone said he was proud of the Cougars’ work this early in the season, especially with a relatively new team.
“You want to be able to show those positives, because they were positive,” Barone said. “I mean, the reality of it is, we came back from a 7-0 run start.”
The Cougars’ next matchup is an away game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at 6 p.m. on Dec. 9.
For more information, check the SIUE athletics website.