Tim O’Shea came into the media room after Bryant’s 80-54 dissection of NEC rival Saint Francis University Thursday night and said simply, “A little better than the last game, huh?”
The Bulldogs (5-7, 2-1) were coming off a 63-47 loss at St. Francis Brooklyn, in which they managed just 0.78 points per possession, which was unfortunately more the norm that O’Shea would have liked this season. Bryant was 3-0 coming into Thursday when it had shot 42% or better from the field, which is part of the reason they entered just 289th nationally in eFG% (and not much better in offensive efficiency – 269th).
But against Saint Francis, previously 2-0 in the NEC (and the same team that ended their season in the NEC quarterfinals last season on the same court they were playing on), everything clicked for Bryant, who seemed to get whatever shot it wanted whenever it felt like scoring in the half-court. And in the second half, even long threes with the shot clock were going down. In the end, 65.5 eFG% for the game, and 70.7 eFG% in the second half, led to an unexpected blowout.
Bryant finished with 1.34 points per possession, its highest in an NEC game since it dismantled Saint Francis in the 2013 NEC Tournament. But although many of the names are the same for the Red Flash (8-6, 2-1), this was much more impressive.
“This was very similar to how we played against Army (an 80-73 road win over a then 6-1 Black Knights squad that saw them score 1.19 points per possession),” O’Shea said. “We stayed within the structure of our offense and generated good shots. We had four guys in double figures. So it gives me hope. Now we just have to continue to play that way.”
Meanwhile, it was a hard lesson for Rob Krimmel’s Saint Francis team, who was coming off an emotional win over rival Robert Morris on Monday, their first win over the Colonials in 15 meetings. The Red Flash offered little resistance on defense, and were able to match Bryant with some decent offense of their own for a while, but eventually just couldn’t keep up.
“You come on the road once league play begins and you have to make sure you have a focus and intensity about you, and I thought that we didn’t come out with a good enough focus to win on the road,” Krimmel said. “I wasn’t pleased with the way we played, obviously, but give Bryant credit. A lot of that is because of the way they played.”
Which brings us to the chicken and egg syndrome we see so often. Was Bryant that good or was St. Francis U that bad? And what does it mean for the rest of the season?
If you can answer those questions, you’re better than me, but here are three thoughts from the Chace Athletic Center, which is a much different place when students are in the house (attendance was announced at only 603 on Thursday). But they’ll be back soon:
1. Maybe some confirmation bias, but … – Full disclosure, I picked Bryant to win the league, mostly because of Dyami Starks, though, who was basically a non-factor for the second straight game. Again, Starks was taken out of the game for long stretches by a very good defender (Greg Brown), and had only four points midway through the second half.
But this time his teammates took advantage of the attention Starks was getting. Freshman Hunter Ware scored 16 points and hit four three-pointers when left open. Sophomore Dan Garvin scored a career-high 14 points (on 7-9 shooting), added three blocks, including what might have been the play of the game when – leading just 45-36 – he chased Greg Brown from behind after a steal and swatted his shot. Joe O’Shea tied a career high with 21 points and didn’t look like a player shooting 30.4% from deep this season. Tim O’Shea also credited Curtis Oakley with feeding some energy into a game that desperately needed it after playing sparingly in the last few games.
“Coach has been talking about how everyone needs to step up,” Garvin said. “He was talking mainly about chemistry, saying if we play together, we’ll win together. I think that stuck with everyone today.”
2. Saint Francis U may have some defensive holes – The Red Flash are now just 267th nationally (51.2%) in eFG% defense and 208th in defensive efficiency. Bryant did make some long three pointers late that would have been tough for anyone to stop, but of bigger concern is probably the 40 points Bryant managed in the paint, even with Earl Brown and Ronnie Drinnon patrolling the inside. Statistically, the Red Flash do a good job of forcing turnovers and rebounding other team’s misses (Krimmel gets brownie points for mentioning that in addition to all their other failings, Bryant did rebound 44% — 11 of 25 — of its misses in the post game). But teams are shooting remarkably well against them, particularly on two-pointers (52.9%, 309th).
“To be honest, this was the first time this season where our focus and our effort, for better stretches of the game consistently, just wasn’t there. So as a coach, you have those moments where you have to teach and this doesn’t happen to us again,” Krimmel said. “We talked about how good we felt leaving the locker room after the Robert Morris game, we told them remember how you feel leaving the locker room here against Bryant because we don’t want to duplicate this feeling.”
3. On to the next one – As much as analyzing is fun, this might just simply be a case where Bryant played better than they have in a while (this was the first time all season the Bulldogs shot above 50%, and only the fourth time in the last two seasons) and Saint Francis U. just never answered the bell, although it should be noted the Red Flash were only down by five at the half until the real shooting spree started. We’ll know more about Krimmel’s team after their next three games, a rare home-and-home with Sacred Heart before hosting St. Francis Brooklyn. Win two of those three, and this one will likely be forgotten.
Meanwhile, Bryant will be heartened by knowing that Starks likely can’t stay this cold for long, and with four of its next five in the NEC at home and the only road game at struggling Central Connecticut, this is the time for the Bulldogs to make a move.
“This was great to see, and it gives me hope that I can see it more often,” O’Shea said. “But we have to do it Saturday. Then we have to do it next week, and on and on and on.”