Despite trailing for most of the game last Saturday, the University of Mary Washington men’s basketball team took the lead with less than a minute to play when sophomore E.J. Willis drained a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 75-74 advantage.
It was the first lead for UMW since the 9:50 mark of the first half, but the Eagles didn’t get to savor it for long, as late free throws ended up sinking head coach Rod Wood’s team. UMW sophomore Walt Smith missed a pair of foul shots with 27 seconds remaining that would have extended the Eagles lead, and the Bobcats’ Bradley Nunn connected on two from the charity stripe with under 10 seconds to play to help Frostburg State edge the Capital Athletic Conference’s (CAC) top team, 76-75.
“I missed some key free throws, some big free throws, man,” Smith said. “It’s real frustrating. I’m in the gym everyday practicing free throws. I just feel like I let my team down. I could have put us up three…and I really took that hard. I told the team that’s on me.”
Smith wasn’t the only Eagle to struggle from the foul line, as Mary Washington was just 19-36 for the game and they shoot just 60 percent from the stripe as a team on the season.
“I think it’s more of a head problem then a repetition or a skill problem,” Wood said of his team’s free throw shooting struggles.
The 15-year coach also added that he thought his high-octane style of play wears down his team, as well as their opponent, and makes them susceptible to those problems at the foul line. Despite Nunn’s two clutch free throws to seal the win, the Bobcats were just 17-34 on free throws in the game.
The loss was the first conference blemish for the Eagles (13–5, 8–1), who remain a game up on St. Mary’s College for first place in the CAC. The victory for Frostburg State (9–9, 6–3) moved them into a tie for third in the conference. Senior Henry Brisibe was Mary Washington’s top performer, contributing a double-double with his 13-point, 11-rebound effort in the loss.
Meanwhile for the Bobcats, Troy Dockett led the way with a game-high 26 points while also adding seven rebounds to help FSU pull off the upset.
The Eagles other big struggle this past weekend was on the glass, where Frostburg State outrebounded UMW 46-34, and Wood’s team surrendered 15 offensive rebounds that led to numerous second chance points for the Bobcats.
“I was more perturbed with how many offensive rebounds the other team got than our foul shooting, and that’s a toughness issue,” Wood said. “We can’t give up second shots because if we’re taking the ball out of the net then we can’t get our fast break out, and then we can’t control the tempo.”
While a loss never sits well, Smith said that he thinks the team has been grounded by the defeat, which could benefit the Eagles in the long run.
“I think the loss kind of helped us, because I feel like it’s made us more hungry,” Smith said. “We know everybody is coming for us now. It’s humbled us. We were 8-0…but at this point records don’t matter. Any team on any given night can be beat.”
Wood emphasized that now that his team is going through the conference a second time, they will need to make some adjustments if they want to keep winning games. He stressed that he needs more out of his post players in terms of scoring in the paint and creating second chance opportunities with offense rebounds.
Wood, the current front-runner for Conference Coach of the Year, also said that his players need to tighten up as a unit in their half court defense, as he believes teams will likely try to slow the Eagles down in the coming weeks to get them out of their game. But while Wood believes those tweaks need to be made, they aren’t as paramount as what he said soon-after.
“We need to be tougher and we need to be more physical,” Wood said. “If we’re able to do that and maintain the rest of our game, we’re as good as anybody and better than most in our conference.”
The Eagles will be back on the court Saturday afternoon, as UMW hosts St. Mary’s College at 4 p.m. in the Anderson Center in a game that has significant conference implications.