Always positive after games, Hartford coach John Gallagher did his best impression of Lou Holtz at Notre Dame after Wednesday night’s 69-59 victory over Binghamton at the Chase Family Arena. Holtz, if you’re too young to remember, would profusely praise each of Notre Dame’s opponents, no matter what the gap in ranking or talent might appear to be.
Yeah, the Bearcats were now 1-16, lost to a Division II team (Caldwell), its only victory was over a Division III school (Hartwick), had its best player (Jordan Reed, who scored 33 in an overtime loss at Hartford last season) leave after playing in five games this season, and just had its leading scorer remaining (Dusan Perovic) tear his ACL earlier this week.
“Binghamton was a desperate team that played with great poise tonight,” Gallagher said. “They just really wanted to win a game. I felt it because I was there (three years ago Hartford started 0-13). Believe me, I watched all their tapes. What happens is, guys just start playing. If you were an observer and came into that gym tonight, you would have said, ‘That team is going to be good. The program is in good shape.’ That’s why I’m so adamant because I’ve been in their shoes. I see a lot of sunshine in Binghamton that people don’t see.”
While the trusty hyperbole meter I carry into coaches’ press conferences went through the roof, there might be some truth to what he’s said. And although there’s apparent work to do to catch the Stony Brooks, Albanys, and Vermonts of the America East world, a conference win is a conference win, right?
Here are three quick thoughts from West Hartford, where Mark Nwakamma became the fifth-leading scorer with 18 points and 12 rebounds, the eighth straight game he’s been in double digits:
1. Hartford’s offensive troubles are around the rim – Nwakamma can adjust for that to a point, and got some help after a horrific start gave the Bearcats life (and an early 8-1 lead they were able to keep almost until halftime). Corban Wroe is known primarily for his shooting, but was 3-of-4 inside the arc Wednesday, making him an even 50% (19-38) on two-pointers this season. But 38 shots in 15 games is not enough to lift the Hawks above 273rd nationally in two-point shooting (44.4%). Gallagher would probably like freshman John Carroll to be that other post, but he’s only shooting 36.9% on twos (27-73) this season and was not a factor against Binghamton. The Hawks are only 270th in offensive efficiency and being more of a threat around the rim would likely open them up more for what they want to do best, shoot three-pointers.
A dreadful start on the defensive end, allowing an offensively challenged Binghamton team to get several layups in the early going, didn’t help.
“We needed to step up our defense to get the offense going,” Nwakamma said. “Our start was not where it needed to be, for an experienced group, that’s unacceptable with a bunch of seniors.”
2. There might be a light at the end, but not sure Binghamton can see it – Gallagher said that Binghamton would be playing “in a championship game in the next three years”, which set off the hyperbole meter again. However, in his defense, it had become abundantly clear that Jordan Reed did not fit into a long-term plan that saw the Bearcats (1-16, 0-2) play no seniors and one junior (Karon Waller) all of seven minutes.
(Binghamton only had nine players dressed, and even sophomore John Rinaldi – who had logged only 10 minutes all season – got a two-minute run in the first half, diving after everything he could before heading back to the bench with a smile on his face.)
They won’t have Perovic for the rest of the season and sophomore Nick Madray – who scored 20 points in the last game he played – did not play with an ankle injury. Freshman Willie Rodriguez has shown some good things, freshman Romello Walker led the Bearcats with 17 points (although he did pick up a silly technical foul). Yet another freshman, Justin McFadden, had five assists and didn’t turn the ball over.
So the Bearcats may have a tough time the rest of this season, but if you can have a little patience…
“Our attitude is good,” Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey said. “Any coach that has only one win in the middle of January is probably not enjoying coaching his team very much. But I don’t feel that way at all. I see what we can be. The future is still bright. The present is tough, and it keeps getting tougher with the injuries and some of the adversity we faced. I still think we can be competitive in this conference this year, though.”
3. Welcome, Jack Hobbs – Gallagher’s original plan was to redshirt freshman Jack Hobbs (from Anchorage, Alaska) and allow him to put on some weight and adjust to Division I basketball. But according to Gallagher, Hobbs has performed so well in practice that he changed his mind and decided that the Hawks (8-7, 1-1) need Hobbs this season. He made his collegiate debut Wednesday, logging 10 minutes and going 1-3 from the field, all from beyond the arc, hitting a three from the right corner with 11:58 left that finally gave Hartford the lead for good.
At 6’7”, Hobbs can create his own shot and obviously should get better, the more playing time he gets.
“He’s a top-five producer in practice. He’s going to get stronger and better. We couldn’t afford to redshirt him,” Gallagher said. “Here’s what it came down to: The only person I’d be serving by redshirting him is my career and that would be selfish. I would not be doing Jack and the seniors right if I didn’t play him right now.”