There were plenty of times where Aki Thomas’ team competed on Monday night against Big East foe St. John’s.
They even cut into the Red Storm lead to get it as close as two in the second half, after being down one Friday night at Wake Forest. However, St. John’s proved to be too strong inside as they carried away with a 75-53 win to push UMBC to an 0-2 start, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t positives to be taken for Thomas and his team.
Here are three Retriever thoughts after their loss at the hands of St. John’s on Monday:
Sherburne continues to make good impression – Teams are starting to learn that one of UMBC’s best newcomers, and perhaps the America East’s by the time the season is done, is freshman Joe Sherburne. The Brewster Academy product has shined on the big stage after a season at the high level prep school and scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out two assists on Monday night.
“Joe Sherburne is a freshman that many people don’t know about, but if he continues to play like this, people will definitely begin to know his name,” his teammate Rodney Elliott said. “He can play inside out, he’s versatile and he’s a good player.”
Neither Elliott or Thomas are surprised at how much the 6’6″ forward has burst onto the scene for the Retrievers. In his collegiate debut against Wake Forest he collected 12 points and grabbed four rebounds, but the freshman was unafraid against higher competition, grabbing rebounds and having a quick trigger from behind the three-point line.
“I didn’t expect Joe to be intimidated by the ACC or the Big East because on his team he had ACC and Big East players on his team and they were playing against ACC and Big East type players a lot,” Thomas said of his time at Brewster. “So he’s definitely immune to athleticism and talented players.”
The Wisconsin native racked up half of UMBC’s made three-pointers on the night and figures to be a fixture in the starting lineup should he continue at this pace.
“His confidence has been there from the jump, since he’s got here,” Elliott said. “He’s always not afraid to take the open jump shot and not afraid to take the big shot, if we were ever in a situation, I don’t think he would be the guy to pass that up.”
Veterans struggle to carry load early – For UMBC to win games in the America East they will need both Cody Joyce and Elliott to be a factor on the floor. It was apparent from the first few minutes of the game that the senior Joyce was going to be in for a test against bigs the like of Yankuba Sima. Joyce struggled against the front line of St. John’s, culminating in a charge call late the first half, which then led to a technical foul against the 6’8″ senior.
“I thought every time Cody went up to try to score, those guys were contesting,” Thomas said. “They were bodying up, they were being physical and they were being a Big East caliber team.”
Elliott isn’t concerned for his roommate Joyce, who slogged through a seven point, 10 rebound performance against the Red Storm front line.
“He’ll be fine, Cody’s a good player, especially he’s going to be mad about his performance tonight, but he’ll get back in the gym tomorrow,” Elliott said. “Got to focus on the little things, not worrying about the foul calls all the time and just going up making the layups and finishing plays, but he knows what he needs to do.”
Meanwhile, Elliott was held without a point for the entire first half, missing all seven of his shots.
“I’m just really hard on myself, I’m that type of person, so halftime I just had to relax take a deep breath and really just focus in on the little things,” Elliott said. “Got myself going with a little pull up jumper straight out the second half, just had to get a feel for the game.”
The 6′ redshirt sophomore helped the Retrievers’ second half spurt, making six of his 11 second half field goals and scoring 16 points. His three-pointer at the top of the key drew the deficit back to three, 37-34, but the Retrievers would never get as close to the Johnnies again.
Tough tests and aggressiveness will pay off – During the first half, UMBC fearlessly drove into the lane to battle the trees of St. John’s, mostly coming away with blocks and defeats. However, the second half started much to their pace, Elliott beginning it with a transition layup and then the Retrievers produced stops and turnovers to cut the lead down from nine at halftime to two with a Sherburne three-pointer.
“We had spurts where we played well,” Thomas said. “Coming out of halftime we played really good basketball. We got some stops, we weren’t able to make shots consistently – shots that we normally make, shots that we’re dependent on making.”
While getting challenged by the front line was one thing, UMBC also struggled to convert at the line; finishing their night nine of 17 from the charity stripe. But the aggressiveness is expected to continue and once the Retrievers draw more comparable opponents, success cannot be too far off should the put together more prolonged spurts of solid basketball together.
“We are aggressive, I think guys like Jourdan Grant, Rodney Elliott, even Daquon Ervin did a good job of getting into the paint and trying to find our guys and we just weren’t able to connect,” Thomas said. “We got to figure out what’s going on at the free throw line, that’s a big thing, big issue right now. Hopefully we can correct that and quick turnaround Wednesday, we have to face Loyola (MD).”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.