Hartford head coach John Gallagher (photo courtesy: Steph Crandall)

Holy Cross 90, Hartford 68: Injuries Doom Hawks

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – Bill Carmody and turnovers don’t get along much. So much so that Carmody’s Northwestern teams – even against Big 10 competition – did a remarkable job of not giving the ball away without at least getting up a shot. How good? Here are the national turnover rate ranks for Northwestern from 2006-07 to 2012-13: 17th, 20th, 34th, 30th, 5th, 7th, 37th. That’s pretty damn good, no matter what the competition.

(Some irony in the fact that turnovers were not the reason Milan Brown was canned after last season. Holy Cross finished 14-16 and 8-10 in the Patriot League, but were 50th in offensive turnover rate.)

Game on from Hartford! More people here than Wednesday, so there’s that. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

Largely due to Hartford playing a somewhat suicidal defense (they may have had little choice, as we’ll establish in a second), Holy Cross shredded the Hawks 90-68 Saturday night with a 74.0 eFG%, 1.29 points per possession, and a (gasp by Carmody’s standards) 36.4% offensive rebound rate.

Carmody was thrilled with all that, of course, it snapped a three-game losing streak (albeit two were against Rhode Island and Kansas, with the third to Albany in overtime), and he can see the pieces coming together for a possible Patriot League run. Junior Malachi Alexander didn’t miss a field goal and finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Junior Robert Champion, who was never a big factor under Brown, continued his good start to the season with a career-high 22 points.

“Going into the season, it was a little tough to get everybody together and get everyone on the page with the new stuff, but our offense is clicking now and it’s looking good,” Alexander said. “As long as we stay aggressive on the defensive end like we did tonight, I think we’ll be fine going forward.”

But as happy as he was and as much as he knew many of them were because of the style Hartford was employing, Carmody couldn’t take his eyes of that turnover number: 16 (a 22.9% rate, which pushed Holy Cross to 17.7% for the season, 133rd nationally at this point).

“They wanted to make it ratty and that’s the way you should do it, but we didn’t handle it as well as we could,” Carmody said. “There’s a double-team and you’re throwing these little rainbow passes around and guys are picking them off. That bothers me. That’s when it’s easiest to surgically go about your business when they’re pressuring you. The last four minutes of the first half bothered me. They played a hard man-to-man and each one of our guards we put in turned it over. I didn’t like that feeling. I’m happy we got this win, though, and we go from here.”

What else did we learn from Chase Family Arena on Saturday night?:  

  1. Hartford’s gameplan was thrown off before the game started

 The Hawks (3-8) have already lost starting center John Carroll for the season and even before that they were probably going to struggle in the post. Saturday morning, freshman George Blagojevic was ruled out with a minor knee injury. At 6’8”, Blagojevic is Hartford’s second-leading scorer and rebounder remaining, so post options weren’t only limited, but non-existent (the Hawks were also without 6’4” senior Taylor Dyson, who can at least give them some size. Rarely used Dougal Weir, at 6’9”, started, but played only eight minutes before Gallagher decided to go with a tiny lineup that included Jack Hobbs and Pancake Thomas (both naturally guards) in the back of a zone and try to pressure Holy Cross into mistakes before they could get to the rim.

It made for a fun game to watch, and when Hartford did cause turnovers, it made a couple of little runs (they were only outscored in the second half 45-42), but there were just too many easy buckets and open looks for Holy Cross.

“You’re down, so you have to try something,” Gallagher said. “It’s not something I’m looking to do long-term, but watching us press, it’s something we’re going to have to do because even if we trap once, we can get back and force teams and not get beat on the backside. So we’ll have to refine it, but we’re going to have to do that.”

2) Keep it simple, stupid

It’s always funny to hear Princeton offense folk talk about its simplicity and no better person than Bill Carmody, who does tend to be unassuming most of the time anyway. He knows how much success his team will have this year (and in the future) will depend largely on how well they shoot it, and it’s been a bit of a struggle so far this season, although it certainly wasn’t Saturday.

“I’ve said all along if you start making shots, they’ll start playing you harder and then you’ll start getting layups,” Carmody said. “They work together. If you start getting layups, they’re going to get off you. And then you can make threes. It’s not that complex.”

3) Long live the 1-3-1

Perhaps my favorite defense was on full display Saturday with Carmody using it almost exclusively, and it was working, so why switch? Of Hartford’ 54 field goal attempts, 36 of them were threes and Holy Cross was still able to concede only three offensive rebounds. The Hawks were 9-18 from behind the arc in the second half (14-36 total) and the injuries didn’t help Hartford.

The good news for them is that neither seems really serious. They are questionable for Monday’s game against Sacred Heart, but Hartford doesn’t play again until Dec. 22 against Widener and Dec. 30 vs. Rider, so they should return in plenty of time for those games.

“I don’t think we attacked it right, but normally we have George (Blagojevic) and Taylor (Dyson) out there, guys that can really shoot and really pass” Gallagher said. “I think it was a good call by them with the personnel we had. It’s nothing other that they were long. In the second half, we attacked it well. I think if we faced it tomorrow, we would do well, but life doesn’t work that way.”

Good night from Hartford. All Fighting Carmodys this evening. #TMMLegacy A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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