It's safe to say this is not the same, fiesty American squad that knocked off Maryland around this time last season. At 5-5, the Eagles have been going through a bit of a rough stretch lately. They've played all but two games on the road so far this season (though playing at Georgetown and at George Washington aren't exactly exhausting road trips) and have lost four of their last five games. On Saturday night, American defeated UMBC, 74-61, to pull its record to .500.
On Friday, I got a chance to speak over the phone with American Coach Jeff Jones to gather some of his thoughts on the Eagles as they head into Monday night's match-up against the Terps at Comcast Center (For those of you who haven't already heard, the game's start time has been adjusted to 7:45 p.m. for the benefit of the TV programming folks.)
While he said he was proud of the effort his players have demonstrated in recent weeks, Jones was up front about the state of his squad.
"We’re not there," Jones said. "There’s no question we’re not playing the way we need to play, but we’re not that far off. I’m disappointed, but I’m not discouraged, and as long as our guys stay positive and keep working as hard as they have been working, then I think eventually we’ll play ourselves out of it."
That process may have begun Saturday night during the Eagles' victory over UMBC. Senior guard Garrison Carr (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), who is expected to provide American with a deft shooting touch, had been struggling mightily on the offensive end of late. He is shooting just 36.8 percent from the field on the season and that includes his 10 for 18 performance Saturday against UMBC. He poured in a career-high 34 points, including the 1,000th of his career.
"People have noticed Garrison and they’ve paid their respect, so to speak, by really giving him a lot of attention, really attacking him and trying to limit the good looks that he does get," Jones said. "I thought the other night against (George Washington), they did a good job defensively, but quite honestly, I thought he got some open looks that maybe in the two or prior to that that he hadn’t gotten. But he was looking for that defender. A couple of times, he pumped faked and there was nobody there. I took that as an indication that maybe he’s thinking about it maybe a little bit too much. We gave him a videotape of him making shots, just as a reminder that, you know, all of the sudden you didn’t become a bad shooter. The kid’s a great shooter. We want him to have confidence and know that we have confidence in him."
The player Jones might have the most confidence in right now is senior forward Brian Gilmore (6-foot-8, 220 pounds). Gilmore is averaging 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 49.4 percent from the field.
"Brian has certainly seized the opportunity," Jones said. "He played a bigger role last year, and even though he didn’t start, he was a finisher for us. This year as a starter, he’s playing more minutes and I think he’s responded by being the most consistent performer that we’ve had night-in, night-out. He’s really been scrappy and trying to do the things that he can do to help the team."
Among the keys to pulling his team out of its recent slump, Jones listed getting Carr, Gilmore and senior point guard Derrick Mercer (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) going at the same time near the top of the list. While Gilmore has been steady and Carr recently had what might prove to be his breakout performance, Mercer has continued to struggle with bandling the ball.
"From a scoring standpoint, he needs to be more aggressive and be that opportunistic scorer," Jones said of Mercer. "We need him to be our third double-figure scorer to keep defenses honest. But I think the big thing with Derrick is taking care of the ball. His assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t even close to what it’s been in past years. Certainly we’ve been playing against really tough competition, but he’s better than that assist-to-turnover ratio. So if he’s looking at the basket a little bit more and converting a higher percentage of his opportunities and being more efficient with the basketball, that goes a long way toward helping our team."
Though he scored 13 points against UMBC, Mercer tallied four turnovers to just one assist. On the season, Mercer has recorded 27 assists and 28 turnovers. He is shooting 39.0 percent from the field and scoring 8.9 points per game. Against a Terrapins defense that has been fairly stout along the perimeter, the Eagles could run into a serious problem if Mercer can't discover some ball-handling discipline in a hurry.
"Our guys are working hard," Jones said. "I think my big concern is making sure that our guys don’t get discouraged. We’re going through a very difficult road trip against some really strong competition, and as long as we don’t allow it to destroy us, it’s going to make us stronger."
Posted by: donmac1 | December 21, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: hclark1 | December 21, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: de_11 | December 21, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TerpGrad | December 21, 2008 8:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: toddwhite2004 | December 22, 2008 12:57 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.