It’s that time of year again when the sounds of squeaking sneakers bounce off the Mott Gym walls while drips of sweat fall off hard-working bodies onto the wood below them. Men’s basketball has arrived and it’s going to be an exciting season.
“Basketball season seems like it just sneaks up on you,” head coach Kevin Bromley said following an exhibition 97-89 victory over Division II CSU Stanislaus Saturday evening in Mott Gym.
Six Mustangs – all five starters and a player off the bench – passed the single-digit barrier while just three Warriors reached double-digits.
Senior forward Dreshawn Vance led the Mustangs with 17 points and seven rebounds. Junior point guard Trae Clark dropped 14 and shelled out three dimes. Guards Chaz Thomas and Dawin Whiten contributed 13 points a piece and senior forward Matt Hanson tallied 12.
Stanislaus forward Rick Cardosa posted a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds and guards Calvin Westbrook and Heath Colvin recorded 17 for the Warriors.
The Mustangs held a comfortable lead for a majority of the game. They experimented with several defensive strategies, scored in the paint and shot almost 50 percent from the field, but several aspects of their game need tremendous improvement.
A 56.1 free throw percentage (23-41) or a 26.1 percentage from behind the arch will not cut it against tougher competition. Also, the Mustangs posted a 14-15 assist-turnover ratio.
Sophomore transfer Lorenzo Keeler said, “When the games start coming down to two or three points, free throws are key.”
Keeler, an 88 percent all-time free throw shooter, was just 2-4 Saturday evening. Bromley accredits Keeler’s two failed technical foul shots to coming off the bench cold. Along with Keeler, Vance was 7-13 from the free stripe and junior forward John Manley was just 1-5.
“The positive is we got to the line 41 times,” Bromley said. He believes that the free-throw problem at hand is a psychological issue opposed to a mechanical matter and he plans to utilize a team psychologist.
“When you’re at the line not thinking about anything, there’s an art to that,” Bromley said. As the season progresses and players mature, Bromley assumes players will begin to shoot consistently from the line.
Along with missing the easy ones, the Mustangs failed to use the shot clock to their advantage as they, according to Bromley, burped up several three-pointers at inopportune times. Although he says some teams can be successful doing so, Bromley does not want to be known as a jump-shooting team.
“The game is still won in the paint,” he said. “As the year goes on, they’ll get a real feel of when to shoot it and when not to shoot it.”
Bromley does not condone three-point shots when they are out of rhythm or continuity. He stresses that teammates should know when a long shot it taken so they can capitalize on offensive rebounds.
Although he supports playing a well-rounded game, Bromley acknowledged the fact that many of his guards “can really shoot the ball.”
Keeler was one of those players on Saturday. In just 13 minutes of play, Keeler posted 16 points, grabbed two rebounds and dished out one assist. Two of his six field goals were from behind the arch.
As a transfer from Mt. San Jacinto College, Keeler said, “I wanted to go out there and show my coaches and show my teammates what I could do.”
Bromley took note. Keeler took part in a 15-point Mustang run in the second half while Bromley was playing around with his guard line-up. Although his presence as a scoring threat became evident, Bromley noted that Keeler, along with the other newcomers in the line-up, need to become better acquainted with defensive transitions.
Bromley ran a 1-2-2 press into a 3-2 zone following made baskets and said several players had a tough time getting into their correct positions.
“When you get really good at that, you take half your opponents’ playbook away from the offensive end,” Bromley said of his defensive strategy.
Aside from getting into position, Keeler and Bromley said that defense as a whole in terms of physicality, rebounding and mentality needs to be stronger, especially going into the BTI Tipoff Tournament next weekend. “We have to defend so much better it’s not even close,” Bromley said.
The Warriors got to the line 34 times to Bromley’s chagrin and shot 48.8 from the field. The two squads both grabbed 43 rebounds, although the Mustangs pulled down 16 to the Warriors’ 12 on the offensive end.
The Mustangs will take on NCAA tournament teams University of Massachusetts and Northern Iowa this weekend as well as Northern Illinois – a team Bromley believes is on the Mustangs’ level.
“We’re gonna have to play a little bit above our heads to compete in these games,” he said.
The Mustangs will return home to play Utah State on Nov. 15. The Mustangs are 1-12 against the team all-time.