MCLA men's basketball team falls to Jim Calhoun's University of Saint Joseph
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Strip away all the trappings — a road game against a first-year program and a Hall of Fame coach on the other bench — and one could see why the MCLA men's basketball team was not really happy as they walked out of the the University of Saint Joseph's O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon.
The visiting Trailblazers were outscored by 11 points in the first four minutes of play and never recovered as the Jim Calhoun-coached Saint Joe's beat MCLA 108-63. It was the third straight game where the Trailblazers allowed 100 points.
"It's been a problem we've been facing," Hayden Bird said of MCLA's rough starts. "We've been trying to work on it. Eventually, I don't know, we've just got to get out of the gate faster."
Not even a time out in the middle of that opening 14-3 run could stop Saint Joseph (5-2).
By the time the Trailblazers (1-5) got their feet under them, they had cut the Blue Jays' lead back to 19-11 when Ki-Shawn Monroe hit a three-point shot with 12 minutes left in the first half.
MCLA got no closer, as Calhoun's squad went on a 16-3 run over the next five minutes to effectively put the game out of reach. The Blue Jays made all three of their trey attempts in that run, and were 6 of 8 from the foul line. In the same period, MCLA was 1 for 8 from the floor.
"I will say the biggest benefit of playing a game like this in the situation that it was, it's an environment these guys don't get to experience much," MCLA coach Derek Shell said. "We didn't handle it too well. Unfortunately it continued with our bad habit of getting [off to] slow starts recently.
"We try to play these games to get us ready for MASCAC play."
Mike Demartinis and Joaquin Scullark each had 14 points to lead the Trailblazers in scoring. George Felogloy came off the bench to score 10 points in the final seven minutes of the game.
The Blue Jays under Calhoun, who came out of his coaching retirement to build the program in West Hartford, played 16 players on Saturday. Fourteen of them were freshmen, and two of those freshmen had come to Saint Joe's from Division I programs at Central Connecticut and TCU.
One of those freshman, 6-foot-5 guard Ryan O'Neill, had a game-high 20 points. He was one of five Blue Jay players to score in double figures. Nadir Dixon-Thompson, a 6-9 freshman from Dorchester, had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Dixon-Thompson was the most glaring difference between Saint Joseph and MCLA. The Trailblazers tallest starters were Bird and Demartinis, both of whom stand 6-3. The tallest Trailblazer is sophomore Tanner Owens at 6-5, and he got in to play five minutes. Saint Joseph, on the other hand, started one player shorter than 6-4, and played six players who were 6-6 or taller.
That led to MCLA being outrebounded 67-24. The Blue Jays had 20 offensive rebounds to 10 for the Trailblazers. That also led to Saint Joe's outscoring MCLA 27-6 on second-chance points.
Where the Trailblazers did not come through as much was scoring points off turnovers. MCLA did a great job taking care of the basketball and were turned over four times. The Trailblazers did force 18 USJ turnovers, but MCLA managed only 11 points off of those turnovers.
"We always pride ourselves on playing tough teams, in non-conference game," Demartinis said of the gauntlet. "We always play Williams College and they're always top-ranked. Coming in here is another tough test.
"We just have to stay focused. I think we get a little down on ourselves when we miss some shots, but we just have to fight through that."
Calhoun looked like the Calhoun of the UConn era, except in a long-sleeved polo shirt and slacks instead of a suit. While the Hall of Famer did not make a shot or steal, some of the MCLA players knew who the tall gentleman barking out commands was.
"Nah, I never would have expected that at all," Bird said when he was asked about shaking Calhoun's hand after the game. "It was really cool."
The game is the game on the court, but Bird and some of his MCLA teammates couldn't help glancing over to see Calhoun coaching.
"It was really an amazing experience," Bird said, when asked about staring at the Saint Joe's bench. "Obviously, one of the great coaches in college basketball history. It was a really cool experience."
The MCLA head coach said that some day, coaching against Jim Calhoun will be something he'll remember. Losing to a Calhoun-coached team by more than 40 points is something Shell said he'd like not to remember.
"Maybe down the road, I'll say it was a lot of fun," said Shell. "Now, it was what it was."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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