The University of Mary Washington’s men’s basketball team lost a hard fought road game at conference rival Salisbury last Saturday, Feb. 5, falling to the Sea Gulls 72-68. The loss was the fifth in the last seven games for the Eagles and dropped their record to 13-7 overall and 7-5 against Capital Athletic competition.
UMW scored the first points of the game on a jump shot from junior Tad Dickman, but that was the only lead the Eagles saw for the rest of the opening half. Poor shooting marred Mary Washington early, as they shot just 30 percent from the field and connected on just 3-17 three-point attempts in the first half.
“Part of [the bad shooting day] was just taking poor shots,” head coach Rod Wood said. “That is a pretty typical sight for us, as with a young team they don’t know what a good shot is and a bad shot is; they don’t know who should take it and when they should take it.”
Despite the limited offensive success, the Eagles trailed by just two with under five minutes to play before halftime. However, in that final five- minute stretch, the home Sea Gulls went on a 14-7 run to push their lead up to nine, 34-25, at the break.
UMW came out of the intermission strong, going on an 8-0 run in the first minute of the second half to quickly cut the Salisbury lead to just one. The Eagles continued to claw and finally regained the lead off freshman Walt Smith’s jump shot at the 12:42 mark. From that point on, neither team lead by more than five points the remainder of the game.
Mary Washington was up 58-53 with 6:24 left in regulation, but the Eagles proceeded to go scoreless for the next two minutes of play and let Salisbury go on a 7-0 run to recapture the lead. With 37 seconds left, UMW freshman Mike Harvey connected on a pair of free throws to make it a one-possession game, 70-68, but Mary Washington couldn’t force the turnover they needed. Salisbury junior Devin Posey hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining to seal the Eagles fate, 72-68.
“They outplayed us and they outworked us, myself included,” freshman E.J. Willis said. “That won’t happen again. We need to practice harder, work harder, and we just can’t take games for granted. You miss the little things when you’re winning, but when you’re losing those things stick out.”
Salisbury senior David Pearman had game highs in points (23) and rebounds (9) in the Sea Gulls fourth conference victory of the season. Willis and Smith were the top performers for UMW, as Willis poured in 12 points while snatching seven rebounds and Smith went for eight points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals in the loss.
However, despite some individual success, each player also struggled taking care of the ball, as Willis and Smith had six turnovers a piece and the Eagles had 19 as a team.
“A lot of our turnovers were unforced errors,” Wood said. “We throw the ball away and that’s not just this game, but every game. Every single game they have been unforced errors, and those stick out like a sore thumb to me. It’s that people are making poor decisions, and there’s not an importance to the ball, that the ball is worth something. Until that happens we will continue to have 20, 18, 22 turnovers, and that’s not conducive of a team our size to be successful.”
The Eagles’ turnovers were not the only problem, but their lack of an inside game on offense is also a concern for Wood. UMW took 63 shots in the Salisbury loss and 32 of them were three-point attempts.
“Absolutely we are too reliant on the three,” Wood said. “We shoot way too many, but that’s because we don’t have a traditional low post guy. I would like to have more of a post game, and by post game I don’t mean having a (6 foot 9 inch) guy on the block, but a post game is just getting buckets at the basket.”
Smith also showed concern with the Eagles tendencies to settle for outside shots, and said that their needs to be a change in approach going forward.
“Live by the three and die by the three,” Smith said. “We need to get inside more; we need to attack the basket from the get go.”
UMW had a home game last night against Hood College, but the game ended too late for the score to be included in this issue. The Hood game was one of just four games remaining in the regular season before the CAC Tournament gets underway on Feb. 22. Wood is hopeful but realistic about his expectations for his team as postseason play nears.
“The problems that we had the first week of practice are the exact same problems that we’re having the last two weeks of practice, so that doesn’t lead me to be optimistic,” Wood said. “I haven’t seen the growth that I’ve needed to see in those areas. Other teams have adjusted to our style of play, and we haven’t done a good job adjusting to their adjustments. So I’d say I’m cautiously guarded or [looking ahead with] guarded optimism.”