Playing on the road in college basketball is never easy, and it is important to establish a tough mentality as a team that will allow you to respond to adversity when things start to go south. Playing difficult road games early in the season, while not a lot of fun if you can't win, always tell you a lot about what you can expect from your team when the Big East season comes around.
Ever since I've been with Coach we've always been pretty tough on the road. He starts early trying to develop a mentality amongst our guys that we are alone on the road, that we have to stay together and rely on each other only. He stresses that all of our road trips are business trips and the sole focus when we leave campus on that bus is one thing -w in the game. That is all we talk about when we travel.
Early in the season it is hard to know what to expect on the road. We were happy with the way our guys played together against Brown, even though we didn't play all that great. We felt that would be a positive step heading into our first road trip.
We led the South Florida game until the midway point of the second half, and it was definitely a game we felt we should have won. Their point guard, Reggie Kohn, a senior who is going to break the career assist record in Conference USA, really controlled the game and stepped up in the second half. Kareem and Donnie both showed signs of inexperience, looking a little tentative against their 1-3-1 defense when things got tight in the second half.
As much as we prepare for situations like that, there is no replacement for experience. Until you've had the ball in your hands in a four-point game on the road with the crowd going wild, you really don't know how you will react. It is a spot where a healthy Abdul and Rome really would have made a difference. They've been through a ton of those games in their careers and they know how to handle the pressure, and you just know that they are going to be strong with the basketball while making plays in a tight spot.
It hurts to lose a game you felt you could win, especially on the road, but there is no doubt that game will help us in the future. In one sense, it is part of the growth process of a freshman point guard who is going to have the ball in those situations a ton of times before his career is over.
To be completely honest, Ohio U. scared the heck out of me coming in this Saturday night. Losing a game we thought we could win puts a little added pressure on the next one, and I really felt Ohio was the best of our first three opponents. They are widely picked as an NCAA Tournament team and they won in places like Chapel Hill and at Depaul last year, so in know way were they going to be intimidated. Throw in the fact that we were their first game of the season, so we had to compile a scouting report based on tapes from last year and word of mouth. Let's just say my pre-game chicken and pasta didn't taste all that good.
The win over Ohio U. was a great step for this team. I'm still convinced that they are a very, very good team who could be heard from in March, and it helps that they have a pro in their frontcourt. We moved the ball extremely well against a bunch of different defenses and compiled an amazing 29 assists on 34 made baskets. And in the first 3 minutes of the second half we came out and put them away, leaving them no thoughts of coming back and winning the game. We also got contributions from a lot of different people once again, and Donnie bounced back in a big way with 13 assists against 1 turnover. 21 assists against 5 turnovers is a pretty good way for a freshman point guard to get started.
This is one of the more difficult weeks of the year for a basketball team coming up. The last week of classes means that a lot of work is due and preparations for finals are beginning. It is probably the most difficult week of the year to balance the books with the basketball and we've got two tough teams coming into the Dunk.