An aggressive Johnson & Wales defense kept full-court pressure on the Lions throughout the entire first half on Monday night, forcing 10 turnovers.
Emerson could not find an early answer to the speed of the Wildcats despite anticipating just what they were up against, according to guard Eli Kell-Abrams.
“We knew coming in that they were one of the best pressing teams in the league and they can come at you many different ways because of their length and athleticism,” said the sophomore journalism major. “In the first half, we needed to send more help to the ball handlers in the backcourt...Unfortunately we didn’t make that adjustment in the first half, and that’s what led to the numerous turnovers.”
Head coach Jim O'Brien said the problem was hesitation and a lack of confidence in the offense.
“I just think we got scattered,” said O'Brien. “We didn't have to make a whole lot of changes, but we were very tentative against their press in the first half.”
Despite the turnover-filled first half, the Lions went into the locker room 26-22 at halftime — though they only had a four point lead — it would prove to be all that they needed, as they continued to show resolve defensively while only turning the ball over five times in the second half.
“We stopped looking at the press as an obstacle and more as an opportunity,” said Kell-Abrams. “When a team like JWU sends three guys to trap the ball in the backcourt, they are leaving a mismatch on the other side; so once we break through the pressure, we have numbers in our favor. I thought we took advantage of their pressure and made them pay for it in the second half.”
Communication studies major Jon Goldberg credited the team’s success to Coach O’Brien’s game preparation.
“Really it comes down to practice,” said the junior forward. “Coach does a great job of putting us in game situations and working on [the press break] in practice.”
To O'Brien though, the press came down to simplicity.
“We did the same thing in the second half that we attempted to do in the first half, and we just did it a little bit better,” said O’Brien. “We were better with the ball; we weren't as scattery and we were just more aggressive.”
The win brought the Lions within a half a game of fourth place Johnson & Wales in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. Also, it brought the Lions within two games of second place Anna Maria. With only six games remaining—all against GNAC opponents—every win is important, but Coach O'Brien has confidence in his team.
“We just need keep the lid on everything. We think we are going to continue to get better,” said O'Brien. “This was a pretty good win for us. At some point it will sink in, and we will just get better at some of the things that we are a little deficient at.”
Emerson is 8-4 in the GNAC and plays their next game today at home against Lasell.