Hartford has been known to run a large amount of their offense through junior Mark Nwakamma, though when he sat out for two games with a bone bruise in his right knee, the Hawks evolved and began to play their best basketball once he returned.
John Gallagher, who is about to enter his fifth season as head coach, emphasizes that Nwakamma touch the ball on 70% of their possessions. That strategy has paid off, but when the junior was out he found out how valuable the rest of the group was. Junior Corban Wroe put together back to back double digit scoring games in Nwakamma’s absence, the first time he had done that in his career.
“I think he can really score right now,” Gallagher said of Wroe who hit seven three-pointers in the Hawks America East semifinal loss to Stony Brook. “He can really score at the rim and he’s really a physical basketball player, so we’ve figured that out when Mark got hurt.”
The offense seemingly found its groove, and despite falling to Vermont and Stony Brook in Nwakamma’s absence, the Hawks closed the regular season winning five of their final seven games. Hartford’s offense scored over 1.10 points per possession in five games in the month of February, and more important to their offensive success other than hot shooting was cutting their turnover rate.
“Our offense was very stagnant in November and December,” Gallagher said. “I love our offensive numbers, the only offensive number I don’t like is our turnovers, we have to get them down and I thought we got them down the last part of the season.”
The main reason the Hawks were able to cut down on their turnovers is because junior point guard Yolonzo Moore posted an assist to turnover ratio over 1.75 from their first meeting with Vermont in late January. A year removed from battling a sports hernia injury, which he had surgery on after the end of his sophomore season, Gallagher said he loves Moore’s leadership and is excited to see what he could do with a full offseason.
“He’s working extremely hard,” Gallagher said. “He told me he’s shooting between 700 to 800 shots a day. His appetite for success is great right now.”
Junior Wes Cole, who made 42% of his three-pointers, and sophomore Taylor Dyson, who averaged 11.4 points per game over the final 11 games of the season, showed their ability to help take the pressure off Nwakamma.
“We need his rebounding especially when we go small,” Gallagher said of Dyson. “He can really score the ball in so many different ways. I think his potential is so untapped, we talk about it all the time with him, and I think he’s become a better defensive player.”
More importantly the supporting cast may take pressure off Nwakamma, the man who Gallagher credits he wants to run 70% of his offense through, and should allow for the likely preseason first team All America East forward to focus on his game. Gallagher said he would like him to cut his turnovers and improve his ball skills.
Gallagher will be taking his group to Australia on an overseas trip during the month of August. Trips are allowed once every four years by NCAA rules and teams that play overseas get 10 additional practices prior to their trip. Gallagher said that he and his staff are working on how to manage the additional practices along with workouts that are allowed to be conducted during summer periods as well. The first time he brought his group to Australia was the first summer he took the job, now he is taking them back to get them on the path to contend for a conference championship.
“I just want everybody to have the approach that everything for us is about each day,” Gallagher said. “I don’t want to look forward and I don’t want to look back, just want to take the day and embrace the day and we’re going to talk about that just a ton. I’m not worried about March, I’m not worried about league play, all I’m worried about is today; what do we have to do today to get better.”
Ryan Restivo covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.