The Blue Coats returned home from the NBA G League Winter Showcase to face the College Park Skyhawks. The Blue coats coming off back-to-back losses were motivated to end that streak.
From the jump the Blue Coats showed the sense of urgency needed to claim the win. Christ Koumadje was a men among boys pummeling his way inside. Marial Shayok caught lighting in a bottle for eight quick points to start the game. Between Shayok and Koumadje the Blue Coats had a dominant inside out game to start.
After the first round of subs, the team’s defensive holes came to light. The Skyhawks began storming back without the Big Man down-low. lazy rotations, poor fouls, the team was in trouble without their defensive first-unit. Haywood Highsmith was able to provide a spark off the bench but soon enough the lead was gone. Transition defense was none existent for the Blue Coats as the Skyhawks were able to push the ball with ease. All said and down the quarter ended in a tie: 37-37.
Starters checked back in to start the Second Quarter and the offense was back on track. Marial Shayok and Zhaire Smith had chemistry like few others finding each other without a look. The foul issues continued though keeping the Skyhawks in the game. The Blue Coats had no one to blame but themselves for the game being this close. Assistant Coach Isaiah Fox wasn’t helping as he drew two technical fouls before the end of the half.
Marial Shayok and Hayward Highsmith were carrying the team on offense while Christ Koumadje did his part to anchor the defense. The back and forth of the game continued though and neither team was budging. The Blue Coats continued to struggle defensively especially in transition giving up 41 points in the second quarter. Marial Shayok stole the lead back on a jaw-dropping three to beat the buzzer. Blue Coats up an incredible 79-78, defense was not making an appearance this game.
Jonah Bolden would leave at the end the half and not return due to what is currently thought to be general foot soreness.
The Third Quarter was just as tightly contested as the first two, neither team could seem to pull away at first. The Blue Coats were so porous that the Skyhawks could practically walk right in, sit down, and watch Titanic before the defense caught up. While the defense was non-existent, the offense continued to fire on all cylinders to keep the game close. After a hard-fought quarter the Blue Coats trailed 98-99.
The Skyhawks exploded to start the Final Quarter. Scoring with ease, the Blue Coats looked helpless to stop them, they needed the offense to carry them to even have a chance at the win. The bench killed the Blue Coats in the Fourth as nobody could buy a bucket and turnovers were plenty. With Koumadje back in the game, the Blue Coats were able to work the pick-and-roll game which opened up the court.
Finding their own rhythm, the Blue Coats began to close in on the lead. After an impressive performance by the offense they suddenly cooled off and simultaneously, the half-court defense was full of holes yet again. With two minutes to go, Christ Koumadje was called for what was initially thought to be his sixth foul. After further review, Koumadje committed only five fouls, giving the Blue Coats their shot-blocker back along with some hope.
The Blue Coats struggled to close out on shooters and left far too many shots open. With 30 seconds left, the Blue Coats had to result to fouling intentionally. The Blue Coats did themselves no favors as poor defense and unforced errors led to a home loss.
Blue Coats – 125
Skyhawks – 132
Catching up with Coach
After the game I spoke with Coach Connor Johnson about the team’s struggles defensively. Here’s what he had to say:
“Yea I think it’s a point of emphasis in the G League…”
“Teams play very fast so you gotta make a priority of getting back…”
“I think match up-wise we’re pretty strict with who we want to guard and that can create problems…”
After I asked about Zhaire Smith’s sluggish second half and Coach Johnson responded:
“I didn’t think Zhaire was any worse in the second half than he was in the first half. I thought Zhaire actually played pretty well for most parts. I think he does a good job picking his spots, playing with the offense, knocking down open shots. I thought his ball pressure at the end was very good so I don’t know if I agree with that.”
For reference, here is Smith’s second-half stat line:
Coach said he didn’t agree with me but the numbers speak for themselves. Smith was factually slow in the second half. Late on rotations, his passing number were down, he just didn’t have the same impact that he did to start the game.
Smith is a very good player with a ton of promise, in the First Half, he showed you why he is such a special young player. He just didn’t have the same feel in the second half.
Next Game Mentality
Next, the Blue Coats will move on the Maine as they prepare to face the Red Claws. The team needs to prepare defensively in the meanwhile and must leave this loss behind. The game will be Tuesday 12/31 at 12:00 PM EST. Hopefully the Blue Coats can end the year on a positive note.
Photo credit: Alex Mcintyre