Scoring has not been a problem for the men’s basketball team the past few seasons — it’s been keeping opponents off the scoreboard that is the biggest hurdle.
The Bombers have finished at or near the top of the Empire 8 conference, including last season when they led the league averaging almost 84 points per game. The challenge for this year’s squad has been trying to find consistency not just on the offensive end but the defensive end as well, sophomore guard Sean Rossi said.
“We had the same problem last year trying to play a full 40 minutes,” Rossi said. “We’ll start off hot and build an early lead, but it seems we have a tendency to relax and lose focus after getting ahead.”
Last week’s season opener against Hobart College showed some of the inconsistencies the Bombers have struggled with. The Blue and Gold built an 11-point lead five minutes into the game behind three 3-pointers from senior guard Chris Cruz-Rivas but relinquished the lead and found themselves only up one at halftime. Rossi said the team needs to be more conscious of when to turn up the heat if it becomes complacent.
“Once teams make it close again we seem to kick it back into gear,” Rossi said. “We just have to be able to maintain that intensity throughout the game.”
The Blue and Gold are a young team this season, with just four upperclassmen on the roster of 15 athletes. One of the newcomers, freshman guard Chris Jordan, was named Empire 8 Freshman of the Week after averaging 11 points per game in his first three contests. However, Rossi said Jordan, one of seven Bombers averaging more then 20 minutes per game, is even more valuable on the defensive side of the ball.
“Chris is faster than most of the guards we play against,” Rossi said. “He takes a lot of pressure off some of the other guys because we know he can shut down opposing point guards.”
The Bombers, who finished last in the conference in defense last year, are still struggling to stop opposing offenses early in the year, giving up 95 points in a loss to SUNY-Oswego on Sunday, 82 in a loss to Penn State Erie, The Behrend College on Nov. 20 and 87 in their win over Hobart.
With the team shooting only 44 percent from the field, the defense must step up and create more turnovers so the Blue and Gold can take advantage of their speed, Head Coach Jim Mullins said.
“John Wooden had a theory that it’s not how tall you are, it’s how quick you are to the ball,” Mullins said. “So we have to be aggressive on the boards to create that instant offense.”
The team has struggled early on the boards, getting out-rebounded in three of its five games.
Cruz-Rivas said the players recognize they need to be mentally prepared on defense and focus on that every time they take the court.
“The defense has been an issue in the past,” Cruz-Rivas said. “We showed flashes last season of playing good defense, but maintaining that consistency was a problem, and we’ve really worked on that. We just hope it translates in games.”
The Blue and Gold know even though it’s early in the season, the time to work out the kinks is now, Rossi said.
“Our main goal is to fast break and push the ball,” he said. “When other teams are scoring we have to take the ball out of bounds, and we can’t use our speed to our advantage.”