The Friars followed up a 101-92 win over a sharpshooting Laval University team with a hard fought 77-75 triumph over the EA All-Stars. PC raced out to big lead over EA in the second half, but saw that lead evaporate, as EA took a late five point edge over the tiring Friars. PC fought back, however, tying the score and then won the game in dramatic fashion as freshman guard Weyinmi Efejuku drove the lane and sank a running layup with three seconds left.
So, what have we learned from the two exhibition games, as we look towards the 2005-2006 campaign? Quite a bit, actually… both good and not so good. Let's take a quick look at both the good and bad, in no particular order:
WEYINMI CAN PLAY
Quite a few Friar fans had written Weyinmi Efejuku off before ever seeing him play. After all, of the four Friar recruits, he was the lowest rated… the least well-known… pursued by Ivy League schools, among others. In the Mal Brown scrimmage, Efejuku shot poorly and did little to dispel any of those notions.
Those same fans were shocked to see him in the starting lineup against Laval, and he played 32 minutes and scored 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting, with a sweet three pointer. Beyond that, though, he played solid defense, handled the ball with confidence, and showed no opening night jitters. Against EA, Weyinmi started again, played 27 minutes, scored 14 points, and while he didn't shoot as well, he played fearlessly, taking the ball to the hoop, drawing fouls, and having his number called for the winning play. Weyinmi can play.
SEVEN IS NOT ENOUGH
In both games, the Friars were forced to go with seven scholarship players, due to injuries. DeSean White (toe), Charles Burch (back) and Ray Cross (concussion) missed both games… Sharaud Curry missed the first with a banged up finger, and Dwight Brewington missed the second with disciplinary problems.
"We tired because of our numbers," said Friar coach Tim Welsh. "We can't play with a seven man rotation. You can play a seven man rotation if you've got a veteran team, but we're young. Our young guys don't understand the kind of game shape you have to be in." Indeed, in both games, the Friars looked tired at the end, and against EA, that almost cost them a game that they had seemingly won. White and Cross are likely back for the opener against Vermont; Burch is up in the air.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT BREW
Fans were surprised to see Dwight Brewington out of the starting lineup against Laval. He came off the bench to play 29 minutes and score 12 points, but looked disinterested at times. Then, news leaked out that Brew would miss the EA game, due to a suspension for "team rules violations". This is not the first time that the junior wing has had disciplinary problems, and unfortunately, once the games start, those problems become very public.
Brewington is the team's leading returning scorer, and was being counted upon to be a key weapon in the Friars season. However, a hard line has to be taken with Dwight. He's a junior now, and should be emerging as a team leader, not a team problem. As physically talented as he is, for Brew to be an integral part of this year's team, he has to get on the same page as the coaching staff and his teammates. When asked about Brew's status after the EA game, Welsh would only say, "We didn't discuss Dwight today. We'll discuss him tomorrow."
THE DEFENSE STILL RESTS
Probably the best thing that happened to EA was that their 6'8 center, Prentiss Gates, got into foul trouble early in the second half, forcing them to go with 6'11, 260 pound Zoran Viskovic, who had played at Valparaiso. And with that, EA began their comeback.
Viskovic repeatedly posted up Randall Hanke, Herbert Hill, Jonathan Kale, and whoever else tried to guard him, down low, and scored at will or drew fouls. Further evidence that a decent big man with some bulk, will still hurt PC inside. "Randall and Herbert are kind of forwards-centers," said Welsh. "We're still vulnerable to good big men inside, so we tried doing a lot of switching and doubling to stop them." Viskovic scored on a variety of drop step moves, baby hooks, and power layups, and Hanke and Hill simply didn't have the bulk to stop him once the ball got into his hands. This will continue to haunt PC unless they can do a better job denying the post.
Against Laval, a smaller team, the Friars were burned from the perimeter. Laval repeatedly drove the lane, and while Hanke and Hill did an excellent job denying the rim, the Laval ballhandlers would kick the ball out to a bevy of dead-eye three point shooters for wide open looks. As the second half wore on, PC's tired troops had increased problems chasing the ball and getting out on the shooters.
The biggest area that Friar fans agreed would have to improve for PC to enjoy any success this year was the defense. While there certainly were flashes of individual and team improvement in this area, from the first two exhibition games, this remains a priority.
THE YOUNG ARE FUN
Ultimately, this may prove to be Tim Welsh's best recruiting class. All four freshmen show incredible promise, and all four are showing the ability to contribute instantly.
"Injuries are never a good thing," said Welsh. "But in this case, our young guys are getting more minutes than they ordinarily might because of the injuries, and that's only helped them and us as a team. Weyinmi is one guy who has gotten more of a taste because of the injuries. The injuries have expedited the freshmen getting on the floor." Geoff McDermott has shown great instincts and an all-around game… Kale looked a little lost against Laval, but played more confidently against EA… and Curry had a great first half against EA, before showing signs of tiring in the second half. "Sharaud got a little tired in the second half," Welsh commented. "He made some good plays in the first half and he plays at a high speed. He likes to take it inside, but at his size, sometimes he gets in a little too deep and gets lost, whereas Weyinmi is a bigger guard and doesn't get lost in there.
"It's enjoyable building a new team, though," said Welsh. "We've got smart kids and they're fun to be around. They're all very competitive and they keep learning and get better every day. We've got eight or nine freshmen and sophomores. You don't know how they'll react on the road and we've got three straight away games early. But the freshmen are all good."
PC HAS SOME BEEF, TOO
This is probably Welsh's beefiest team. Hanke is 230 pounds, although he still is more of a finesse player. Hill looks bigger at 230 also, and has played tougher around the basket. McDermott is a 240 pound beast who must have been a load to tackle in football. Kale tips the scales at 245 pounds, and White is also 245 and will add to the beef inside when he returns.
"We made toughness plays," said Welsh after the EA game. "We made hustle plays, we got the loose balls, went to the floor. Last year we didn't get the loose balls."
Hanke can be a future pro. He's shown tremendous improvement since last year, and working out with former Friar Marty Conlon has been a blessing. He scored 35 and grabbed 12 boards against an overmatched Laval team, and followed up with 15 against EA. Viskovic gave him problems, however, and he stopped posting up as often in the second half because of a weight and strength disadvantage. Getting stronger is a must for Hanke.
BALANCE IS A VIRTUE
Lastly, for those who wondered where PC's points were going to come from this year, it appears that the points will come from all over. PC had five players in double figures against Laval, and four players in double figures against EA. Donnie McGrath, allowed to play off the ball more with Efejuku and Curry manning the point, looks fantastic shooting the ball… Hanke can score at will inside with his long arms and quick leaping… Hill picks up his share of garbage points and baby hooks… and the four freshmen all can score in a variety of ways.
All in all, the two games provided an interesting glimpse of what could be a fun team to watch. Bring on the Catamounts, and let the real games begin!
What have we learned?
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