Sitting with a 4-2 record (t-third best record) with two games remaining in the regular season of the four week league, the Slats team has seen their share of close games, consistently struggling to runaway with a game. However, Sunday's outing was one of the most disappointing to fans who had the misfortune of seeing thus far for Slats, as the UC crew had to come from a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat McCluskey.
While molding a mindset able to overcome slow starts is something this relatively young team must accomplish, I am sure that the legion of Bearcat fans would rather see the team of the future not have to learn that lesson at the hands of a team lacking a single D-I player. McCluskey is made up entirely of Northern Kentucky ballplayers (Division II).
"They're difficult to play because they are out there setting a lot of screens and running some plays, something not a lot of the other teams do," said UC future freshman Devan Downey, who has also played to a similar two-point outcome against Masser Construction (Cincinnati State) on June 26 (88-86). Unlike Sunday's contest which saw Slats/UC fight back to earn the win, the almost-debacle against Cincinnati State saw UC nearly spoil a double-digit lead. However, as Downey points out, this could be a blessing in disguise for the young UC players looking to form some continuity, especially on the defensive end.
"It makes it difficult at first; they've played together for so long and know what one another is going to do on both ends of the court, so I think we struggled at first. But I think we rebounded well from our first half struggles and it allowed us to get the win. It was kind of like a real game."
The majority of the struggles Downey spoke of were on defense, with Downey being one of the primary examples early on. Kevin Schappelle, the NKU/McCluskey combo guard torched Downey early and often. With the ball, away from the ball, off the jumper, on the drive, even passing the ball, Schappelle gave Downey and Slats fits all afternoon. At times, it even looked like Downey letup a bit when his mark was off the ball. You could see him fading off his man at times, leaving him avenues to cut to the basket, roll off a screen or put a quick three. So much so that James White pulled Downey off his man to guard him himself, an effort to keep him in the game.
What makes matters worse for UC is that Schappelle, who was "straight killin' 'em" as Eric Hicks clamored from the bench, is not exactly a superstar in Division II. In fact, he didn't even start last season. The soon-to-be senior averaged just less than 10 minutes and 3.6 points per game last season.
However, in the second half Downey picked it up and really gave Schappelle some tough times when he matched up against him. Downey credits his improved play to a talking to from his teammates and a better work ethic.
"Guys don't really move that well in high school, they just don't. It is a bit of a change for me, but I got used to it. You know, my teammates gave me a talk at halftime and told me I needed to step it up. I knew what I had to do, I just think I was taking the game a little too lightly. I was laughing at times, and I knew I had to change that."
While showing a knack for understanding how the game should be played on offense, Downey, has not shown the same refined knowledge on the defensive end. With that being said, a lack of defensive prowess is not something to be unexpected for an incoming freshman like Downey. In fact, each of the three Bearcat recruits showed flaws on defense. While DeAndre Coleman showed some issues guarding on the perimeter, Abdul Herrera continued to show why the project label is one that some are not willing to remove from his name just yet. Herrera continues to show a tendency to attempt to block every shot, no matter the man or circumstance, instead of simply putting his hands up and maintain solid defensive positioning. That is one reason Herrera is often sent to the bench with foul trouble, that is when he is not hurt (Herrera played sparingly Sunday but did pick up a pair of bad fouls).
If these Bearcats hope to make an impact in the immediate future, White, who has shown tremendous leadership/teaching skills on the court this summer, knows these baby Bearcats will have to step it up on "D".
"We are a defensive minded team, so playing defense is a must. Defense is the most difficult thing to pick up coming from high school, so it is a good experience for them to be out here. A team like this runs plays, and they pick-and-rolls and set screens a lot more, it is a good thing. We have to work a lot more against a team like them, because they do things a lot of other teams out here don't do. Most teams out here run a lot of isolation, which doesn‘t teach you a whole lot. Besides, you don't see a whole lot of that in college, at least all the time, so it is good to see them get the chance to play against some college-style systems."
In addition, White recognizes the Summer League as an opportunity for the veterans to grow as well, especially into feeling comfortable with the newcomers.
"It is a good thing for all of us, getting to play together and get to know one another. It will really help us grow as a team. The more [Devan, Abdul and DeAndre] they play, especially with [Slats/UC teammates], the more comfortable they will be with our style [of defense]."
Casey Weldon has covered every day of The Deveroes Summer League. He's one reason why Bearcat Insider has the best coverage of UC Basketball on the net.