A surprising start

Leading+scorer+Terri+Stamps+%28above%29+and+head+coach+Chancellor+Dugan+%28below%29+have+led+the+Owls+to+more+wins+%28eight%29+two+months+into+the+season+than+the+team+had+all+of+last+year.+Photos+courtesy+of+FAU+Athletics.

©JC Ridley/Florida Atlantic Uni

Leading scorer Terri Stamps (above) and head coach Chancellor Dugan (below) have led the Owls to more wins (eight) two months into the season than the team had all of last year. Photos courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Rolando Rosa

Two months into the basketball season, and everything has changed at FAU. Last year, the women’s team won seven games all season. This season they’ve already won eight. Last year, the men’s team lost 11 games all season. This season they’ve already lost 12. The women’s team, after a 7-21 season, didn’t have the kind of expectations attached to the regular season conference winning 21-11 men’s team.

We expect the men’s team to bounce back. With head coach Mike Jarvis overseeing (and yelling), the losses won’t continue. And the women’s team? Who knows? With 10 of 12 players on the roster averaging double-digit minutes per game, they have enough depth to overcome what lies ahead: expectations.

Branded with expectations, men’s basketball stalls and struggles

“Without hope, you got nothing…. There should be a reason for hope, though, and there is. Because by the time March comes around, this team will be playing well.”

 Mike Jarvis

A 6-12 record. A home loss to a team with six active players. A five-game losing streak.

After hanging up a banner in The Burrow, this was not how the defending regular season Sun Belt Champion Owls envisioned their season to begin. Yet, 17 games in, FAU has as many losses already as it did all of last season.

Numerous questions linger:

    Can leading scorer Greg Gantt (14 points per game) stay healthy and be effective after an early season ankle injury?

    Will speedy point guard Ray Taylor cut down on his turnovers (2.6 per game) and get the team’s stagnant offense on track?

    When will 6’8” 245 pound Kore White develop into a consistent rebounder and low-post defender?

The answers to these questions will determine whether it will be March Madness or March Sadness for the Owls in 2012.

The potential is still there for a run to the NCAA tournament, as Gantt points to a fellow conference opponent as a reference.

Juniors Greg Gantt (above) and Kore White (below) are first and third in scoring, respectively, for the second straight season. Photos courtesy of FAU Athletics.

“Look at [Arkansas] Little Rock last season,” Gantt said. “They were ranked last in the West in the [Sun Belt] tournament and they made it to the NCAA tournament. It’s far from over. I still believe.”

Back in the lineup and playing on an ankle that, he says, is 70-80 percent healthy, Gantt felt helpless during the team’s five game losing streak earlier in the season.

“It was hard as a competitor,” Gantt said. “Especially in the Miami game (a double-overtime loss), where I know I could have made a difference.”

Gantt’s injury, and the overall inconsistent nature of the team, has forced head coach Mike Jarvis to use every player on the roster as a starter for at least one game, with seldom seen forward Jelani Floyd (who plays an average of three minutes per game) inserted into the  starting lineup last week against ULM.

“I’m like a chemist who is trying to mix things together,” Jarvis explained. “You try this, you try that. Sometimes you don’t find it till it’s too late.”

But could it have been found earlier, perhaps in practice before the season began?

“No, you don’t know what’s going to work until you start,” Jarvis said. “I had to find out [through actual games] what my guys could do and couldn’t do.”

What the Owls cannot do, though, is shoot free throws — evident by 62 percent shooting from the line. Making a free throw in a college basketball game is harder than it seems, according to Jarvis.

“Shooting free throws is not easy. Everyone is watching you, so being able to focus is critical,” Jarvis said. “Free throws are 90 percent concentration. We’re starting to shoot them better and the reason is because we’re concentrating and following through on our shots.”

Through five conference games, FAU has a 2-3 record. The Owls allow the fewest points per game in the conference (46.8). Trouble is, they score the fewest points of all 12 Sun Belt teams with 52.2 points per game.

A major reason for the difficulties on offense are tied to the play of point guard Ray Taylor. The electrifying 5’6” guard has made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays this season, dazzling audiences with his ball handling and high arching shots, but has yet to master the art of making his teammates better. Taylor is shooting just 32 percent this season, and the junior’s field goal percentage has declined each year.

Jarvis is clear-cut with his expectations for Taylor.

“Ray has to be a true point guard and a facilitator,” Jarvis said. “Don’t worry about scoring points. Nobody cares if a point guard scores 20 points if his team loses. Nobody believes in him more than I do. He can still be special.”

With back-to-back Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year,
Brett Royster , now playing overseas, the responsibility of protecting the basket is now up to forward Kore White. It has been a challenge thus far for him. White, the biggest player on the team at 245 pounds, averages only five rebounds per game, only 0.5 more than 6’4,” 198 pound Pablo Bertone.

“I could help the team by rebounding more and showing leadership,” White admitted. “We’ve been struggling in man-to-man defense.”

“Kore White is not playing anywhere near his capabilities,” Jarvis said. “He needs to put it in a higher gear and keep it there. But he’s talented enough to do that and we’ll be a better team when he does.”

It’s something the 66-year-old coach wants to see, believes he’ll see.

“Without hope, you got nothing.” Jarvis said. “There should be a reason for hope, though, and there is. Because by the time March comes around, this team will be playing well.”

Leading scorer Terri Stamps (above) and head coach Chancellor Dugan (below) have led the Owls to more wins (eight) two months into the season than the team had all of last year. Photos courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Women’s basketball has already eclipsed last season’s win total

The turnaround has been swift.

FAU women’s basketball had seven wins (7-21) all of last season. This season? It already has eight (8-7) along with a 3-1 record in the Sun Belt Conference.

“We’ve got team chemistry,” Head Coach Chancellor Dugan said. “Going through the season we went through last season, we’ve come together. We’ve really focused on our goals.”

One of those goals is to win the Sun Belt. Dugan told the crowd at Midnight Madness that she wanted her team to join the men’s team as conference champions. The players have bought in and see this as realistic.

“It can happen,” forward Chenise Miller said. “As cliched as it sounds, if we put in enough blood, sweat, and tears it will happen.”

Led by 10 players who each average at least 10 minutes per game, the Owls are winning without Breana Turner, the team’s second-leading scorer from last season, who suffered a knee injury before the season. Teammates have dedicated this year to her.

“It helped us realize that we all have to step up since she’s out,” Miller said. “She’s a big part of our team but we’re just going to keep playing together.”

Miller leads FAU’s balanced scoring attack with 9.9 points per game.

“We’ve got kids that are coming off our bench that really could start but that’s their role,” Dugan said. “I like to play a lot of people. I like when everybody is into the game. That’s how I’ve always coached.”

In an attempt to motivate her squad, Dugan says her team read John Gordon’s The Energy Bus.

“It’s an inspiring book,” Dugan said. “I think they really took it to heart and are motivated to come to practice every day to get better.”

Dugan implemented new offensive and defensive strategies for this season. They have played  dividends and the players see the benefits.

“We’re getting the ball inside more to the forwards,” Miller said. “On defense, we’re rebounding and boxing out better.”

Guard Teri Stamps also approves of the new offense and defense.

“I like it,” Stamps said. “I feel like it has helped us because of the players that we have. The offense now is more open to create your own shot, rather than set plays. Defensively we’re helping each other a lot more.”

The Owls are 5-1 at The Burrow, and according to players, the success at home is no coincidence.

“We have more people coming this year than last year,” Miller said. “It’s helped a lot. Especially down the stretch [of games].”

This season, the team is averaging 431 fans per home game, compared with 205 per game last year. Stamps claims that FAU did not play as hard nor with as much consistency last year, but says that has changed now.

“I feel like we’ve fought in every game this year,” Stamps said. “We don’t want anyone to come into our school, on our home court, and get a victory.”

One of the most fulfilling wins of the season for the Owls came in a 71-70 triple-overtime victory against Bethune-Cookman at The Burrow. Stamps played a team-high 44 minutes and Miller added 18 points in the win.

Early season losses on the road to premier programs such as Michigan and Kansas, while damaging in the moment, helped to prepare FAU for conference play.

Even though the Owls are an improved team, Stamps feels one element can be improved upon to take the team to the next level.

“A level of maturity,” Stamps said. “Once we get to that peak, I feel like we’ll be very hard to beat.”