Despite a close loss to Stanford on Friday night, NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski writes that the Wildcats got some much-needed contributions from a pair of players off the bench.
Every team needs a performer like Tre Demps, who can create a shot in a time of need. The modern game demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise that the ball found its way to his hands as this one rushed toward its conclusion. The 'Cats were now down two and less than 10 seconds remained and here he drove from the right side into a thicket of bodies. "We were trying to penetrate, have a couple good shooters in, Sobo (Dave Sobolewski) and Jared (Swopshire), to get in the lane a little bit and then find (either Demps or Alex Marcotullio)," Bill Carmody would later say. "But they handled that pretty well. Then Tre found an opening."
"I just tried to get in the lane and penetrate, maybe to find somebody," explained Demps himself. "But I knew things were getting kind of mixed up a little bit, and I knew the handoff was coming my way. I saw the switch, and I knew I could get by (Cardinal defender) Dwight Powell."
Every team needs a performer like Alex Marcotullio, who can provide leadership and that proverbial spark popping off the bench. The unpredictable flow of games demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise what occurred when he entered that fray at 7:23 of the first half and his team switched into its 1-3-1 zone. He is the head of that defense, the one who plays up top, and in that role, says he, "I'm just trying to take them out of their comfort zone. That's my job at the top, to get the start of their offense off-balance and just to create a little havoc out there."
Until this moment at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the only thing off-balance in this game had been the 'Cats themselves. They had led it 2-0 just 23 seconds in, but then went down one 13 seconds later and now slowly, inexorably, slipped into a hole deeper than space. There was little hop to their step, there was little amp in their energy, and their offense was best symbolized by what occurred on the plays just before and just after Marcotullio entered here. First, far out on the court, Mike Turner shot a simple pass toward Kale Abrahamson, but Abrahamson cut as the pass was made and the ball ended up in the Cardinal bench. Then, less than a minute later, Turner sent a back-door pass toward Sobolewski, but the point's way was blocked and he aborted his cut and this ball too ended up out of bounds.
That helps explain why the 'Cats had scored just 14 points in this game's first 14 minutes, helps explain why the 'Cats trailed by 18 with under six minutes remaining in the first half. But here, at 5:25 of that half, Marcotullio hit a three from the left side; the defense he headed began to create the desired havoc; and suddenly, unexpectedly, they exploded into an improbable run. "I don't know if our offense got that much better. I think it did," Carmody would later say. "But we certainly got some steals and changed the tempo of the game with our defense. I felt we were running our offense much better. I felt we were settling in the first 10, 12 minutes, trying to do too much too quickly, but after awhile we got some things that we actually work on and they were effective."
"We started to come up with those loose balls and started to score some easy buckets," said Marcotullio himself. "I think that helped our offense flow a little better. We were getting from one thing to the next. We were scoring inside, and now that we were scoring inside, we were getting looks for the three."
Now, just a little over three minutes after his defense and his three started this run, Marcotullio stripped Cardinal Chasson Randle and finished a break with an old-fashioned three, with a layup and a foul shot. Then, after a Cardinal miss, he fed Reggie Hearn and Hearn drove the left baseline and kissed in a reverse layup, and now these were the facts. After scoring just those 14 points in this game's first 14 minutes, the 'Cats had scored 17 in just four. And after allowing Stanford to scorch them for 32 points in this game's first 14 minutes, they had shut them out in those four. And after trailing by 18 at the end of this game's first 14 minutes, they had closed that margin to just one.
A Cardinal three just before the buzzer would leave them down four at the half. Still. Now, finally, the game was afoot.
Every team needs a performer like Tre Demps, who can create a shot in a time of need. The modern game demands that now, as did the 'Cats Friday night game with Stanford, and so it was no surprise that his presence was felt when he reentered this fray with 11:20 remaining. "Tre has a knack for getting in the lane and stuff," Carmody would say of him. "He really hasn't played that much, you know, so he's just feeling his way around things. But certainly in the last few games he's played he's done extremely well, and helped us come back."
The 'Cats here were in need of help. Sobolewski, their resilient point, was struggling with his shot, finally ending this affair with just a single point after going 0-of-6 from the field. Swopshire, their versatile forward, was scuffling to get shots, finally ending with six points on only six of them even as he did so much else so well (seven rebounds, five assists and a steal). Then there was Reggie Hearn, who had been a force in the first half, scoring a team-high 14 points and collecting a team-high six rebounds. Just under three minutes into this second half, on a drive to the basket, he collided hard with Randle, came up limping, and exited the game for good 90 seconds later.
Still, when Demps entered it four minutes after that exit, the 'Cats were down only four, and here he threw them onto his shoulders. He hit a short, running hook from the right side and then, after a free throw by Alex Olah, a back door layup off a Swopshire pass. He aired his next two floaters, but then dropped a three from the left side and a runner in the lane to tie this one up at 61 at 6:34. Another three, this one at 1:50, tied it at 67, and when this game finally ended, these were the facts. In its last 11:20, he went five-of-10 from the field and scored all of his dozen points, and the rest of the 'Cats went two-of-six from the field and contributed seven points. "I felt a little rhythm, a little pep in my step," he said later when asked about this outburst. "But I wanted to keep the team in mind. It seemed we were having trouble getting into the lane, and I just wanted to get in the lane and make some plays."
Now, in the lane again and trying to make a play, Tre Demps offered the shot that would push this game into overtime, and for a heartbeat the ball posed there on the rim. "A very good shot," Carmody would call it, but here it fell off the rim and toward a skying Swopshire. He seemed set to corral it, but from behind it was knocked away and into Sobolewski, and then it bounced out-of-bounds to the Cardinal and this one was over.
"Yeah, I thought it might bounce in," Tre Demps would soon say. "I tried to give it a little touch. But it didn't fall."