ollowing a huge road win over rival St. Joseph's, head coach Bruiser Flint says his team is in a good frame of mind heading into two home games against Atlantic 10 Conference rivals Dayton and Rhode Island this week. According to Flint, the Minutemen sharpened their game plan in the week between defeating Fordham and St. Joe's. In his weekly column, the head coach believes his team may finally be playing on all cylinders as A-10 play heats up.
Anytime you can take your team on the road and silence the home fans, you have to feel good about your effort. That's what we achieved against St. Joseph's. The Alumni Fieldhouse, which is normally a very loud place to play in, especially when the Hawks are winning, was quiet. We never really let the Hawks in the game. I'd say it was one of our better wins of the season, and I am happy to be riding a two-game winning streak heading into this week's games against Dayton and Rhode Island.
While the Fieldhouse wasn't loud, it was hot and crowded. Two of our players -- Monty Mack and Chris Kirkland -- got dehydrated and had to use ice packs during timeouts. The gym was packed -- not just because I was returning back to my alma mater -- but because the Hawks play most of their home games on campus. When I was a player, we played the majority of our "home" games at the Palestra, which is on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
It is always nice to get back home. I was born in Philadelphia and played high school basketball at Episcopal Academy, which is right across the street from St. Joe's. Everyone who saw the game on television must have seen a handsome man wearing a bow tie sitting right behind our bench. That's my dad, James Sr. He is a die-hard fan. You have probably seen him at the Mullins Center as well. I often wonder if he'd be able to see as many games if I coached in California!
I enjoy coaching against the Hawks, and over the years, we seem to play our best against them. I thought that both teams played well in a very hard- fought game. For the first time this season, we got the bounces that we needed to win the game. Believe me, I have been on the other side many times.
As a team, I thought we played as well as we could play -- right now. We still have a lot of improvement ahead. Here are a few things that I noticed.
Our defense broke down on six occasions that led to easy field goals when we didn't rotate and pick up the open man.
Our interior defense as a team could have been tighter. We gave up too many second-chance shots.
Several of our key players got into foul trouble and didn't give us as many minutes as needed.
On the plus side, we had a terrific offensive game, largely because we were very patient with our shot selection. We got the shots we wanted and shot a high percentage. I have often said we can't shoot 30 percent and win games. I liked our shooting, which was around 50 percent against the Hawks. Much better! With our defense, which is always going to be a constant, we will win games when our shooting is solid.
We had a good team effort. From Monty to Chris to Shannon Crooks to Jonathan DePina off the bench, everyone contributed. Kitwana Rhymer broke out of his doldrums and played terrific basketball on both ends. I believe we are in good position to win both home games this week, but we are going to need the same effort against Dayton and Rhode Island.
I have always maintained that Temple is the best team in the Atlantic 10 and that St. Bonaventure was a close second. I still feel that way. Everyone else is even. The Bonnies beat Temple at the buzzer and Fordham upset Dayton. It is important to win your home games and steal a few on the road.
Dayton is our next opponent. Following their loss to Fordham, I know they'll be ready to play us. The Flyers are big and strong and have experience. They're a good team. Entering our game, Dayton will have a 12-3 record, a mark that includes a 68-66 win over Kentucky. Dayton started the season with eight straight wins.
The thing that scares me most about Dayton is their depth. Nine players have seen action in all 15 games. The Flyers have balanced scoring with Tony Stanley, a junior guard, averaging 14.6 points a game and 6-foot-10 senior center Mark Ashman averaging 12.5 ppg and a team-high 6.3 rebounds.
Five other players score between seven and 10 points a game. David Morris, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, leads the team in assists and can really penetrate and find the open player. Keep an eye on sophomore forward Yuanta Holland, a very athletic and talented 6-foot-7 player.
On Saturday, Rhode Island, minus the incredible talents of Lamar Odom (now starring with the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers), visits the Mullins Center. Rhody, currently 5-12, is coming off a 68-56 win over Duquesne. The Rams are playing better, largely because they are getting healthy as a team. Early in the season, as many as four walk ons were on the court, including 6-foot-5 250-pound Justin Henry, a member of URI's football team. URI will be confident following two straight A-10 wins.
Zach Marbury, brother of the New Jersey Nets' Stephon, leads URI in scoring (15.7 ppg), assists (72) and steals (27). Tavorris Bell, a 6-foot-6 swingman and 6-foot-9 forward Luther Clay, both returning starters from last year's 20-13 URI team, are slowly coming into their own. Clay had been injured and out of the lineup for two weeks. When healthy, he is a force.
We are looking to keep the momentum going. Two home games. Two much-needed wins.