Mid-season report: Owls vs. Lady Owls

Mohamed Abdihakim

With the season just passing the midway point of the 2012-13 campaign, both FAU men’s and women’s basketball has seen improvement.

Led by new head coach Kellie Lewis-Jay, the Lady Owls stand at 10-7 on the season (9-8 this time last year). Mike Jarvis’ men’s team is at 10-10 in their first 20 games (7-13 last year).

From offense to defense to team chemistry, several factors have led to the improvement in both Owls basketball teams.

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[title type=”h2″]Offense[/title]

[title type=”h4″]FAU women’s basketball[/title]

The Lady Owls are witnessing a huge uptick in their offensive output.

Last year’s team, led by now Bellarmine University head coach Chancellor Dugan, averaged just 56.4 points per game. This year, new head coach Kellie Lewis-Jay is overseeing a squad that’s putting in 73 points on a nightly basis.

Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Photo by Ryan Murphy.
They’re also moving the ball better than last year, evidenced by a per game increase from 9.9 to 12.6 assists per game.

Last year the lady Owls were without Breana Turner due to a torn ACL. The senior combo guard’s return is a big part of the team’s offensive renaissance this year.

Turner is averaging 11.7 points per game, second only to Chenise Miller (14.3). She shoots 81 percent from the free-throw line, also second on the team.

“I feel good this year,” Turner said. “It’s good to be back.”

With a decrease in turnovers — from 19.2 to 17.1 per game — the Lady Owls are handling the ball better than they were last year as well. But, as Lewis-Jay made clear, “We’re a work in progress.”

“We’re trying to work on our understanding, our basketball IQ, the difference between good shots and bad shots,” Lewis-Jay said. “We have a lot to work on, but we’ll get there.”

[title type=”h4″]FAU men’s basketball:[/title]

Senior guard Greg Gantt has improved on his scoring by over eight points, going from 14 points per game last year, to 22.5 this year. That boost in offensive production has placed Gantt as the nation’s third best scorer.

In 27 games last year, Gantt scored 379 points. In 20 contests this year, he’s already up to 449. When he’s not scoring, Gantt is facilitating for his teammates. Last year’s total assists for the senior guard was 21. So far this year, Gantt has already dished out 28 assists.

Photo by Max Jackson.
Photo by Max Jackson.
“This year, I have more responsibility to score the ball than previous years,” Gantt said. “I don’t feel pressured to score the ball, but I’m just trying to get myself involved in the offense as much as I can.”

Freshman guard Stefan Moody is also having a good season. In his first season of Division 1 college basketball, he’s put together a line of 14.2 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game. At 5’10”, Moody uses a 44” vertical leap to bring down his rebounds.

“He’s a natural athlete, and a natural scorer,” Gantt said of his teammate. “Some of the shots he takes make you go like ‘whoa,’ but they go in. He doesn’t even think about it. He’s going to be a monster [in his senior year].”

FAU’s men’s team has seen their offense take a slight step back. Last year, the Owls put up 65.9 points per game. To this point in the season, they’ve put up 64.8 points per game. The team’s field goal percentage is at 41 percent, the same figure they averaged last season.

Photo by Max Jackson.
Photo by Max Jackson.
Their prowess at the free-throw line has shown as well.

“Free throws are big,” Gantt said. “We’ve missed some big ones late in games and we just can’t do that.”

It’s hard to argue with him.

They were big when the Owls missed four of them back to back in a close win against Western Kentucky. They were big when FAU lost to North Texas by two in overtime.

The Owls are also hitting their free throws at a higher rate, making the most of their increased attempts. Last year, they hit 66 percent of their free throws as a team. To this point in the season, the Owls are hitting at a 73 percent clip at the charity stripe.

Despite the downturn in the Owls’ overall offense, it’s worth noting that at 38 percent, they lead the Sun Belt Conference in three-point percentage.

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[title type=”h2″]Defense[/title]

[title type=”h4″]FAU women’s basketball:[/title]

Turnovers have been a huge indicator of how much progress the Lady Owls have made from last season.

In their 2011-12 campaign, FAU’s women’s team coughed the ball up 19 times per game while forcing just under 17 turnovers from their opponents. This year, the Lady Owls have cut their own turnovers down to 17 per game along with forcing 24 turnovers per game.

Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Photo by Ryan Murphy.
The women’s team is also blocking shots at an average of 4.4 swats per contest this season, doubling their mark from last year. Senior forward Chenise Miller sent back 24 shots in her 30 games. In 17 games this season, Miller has already collected 39 blocks.

“Establishing a presence was big for me this year,” said the senior out of Oak Park, Mich. “I wanted to establish myself in the paint, and help my team on the physical side [of the game] too.”

Takia Brooks leads the team with a total of 41 steals on the season. Briah Blakely, a transfer from McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, has swiped the ball 27 times on 21 minutes of playing time per contest.

“Takia’s leadership on the court is huge for us,” Lewis-Jay said. “And we’ve got so many talented players that we can switch players out when we start really running the press.”

Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Photo by Ryan Murphy.
“I just focus on making sure the [other team’s] point guard doesn’t get the ball,” Blakely said of her approach.

Though the team is starting to really understand Lewis-Jay’s preferred defensive scheme, opposing teams are doing the same.

“For the first part of the season, we were able to use the press and sneak up on people,” Lewis-Jay acknowledged. “Now, everybody knows it’s coming and teams have adjusted. Continuing to guard the ball is a huge issue for us. We have to take that next step and be able to guard one-on-one.”

[title type=”h4″]FAU men’s basketball:[/title]

The Owls are holding opponents to 41 percent shooting from the field, a mark bested only by Middle Tennessee in the entire Sun Belt Conference. FAU is also second in the conference in 3-point field goal defense, allowing opponents a 30 percent average from deep.

The one stat that FAU leads the conference in most convincingly is blocked shots. As of Jan. 18, 2013, the Owls have collected 101 rejections (5.3 per game). South Alabama, the second best team in that category, has a full 21 blocks less.

Photo by Max Jackson.
Photo by Max Jackson.
Sophomore forward Kelvin Penn has been the biggest reason for FAU’s season-long block party. Accounting for 51 of the Owls’ 101 blocks, Penn is averaging 2.7 swats per contest. Those marks are matched only by preseason All-American Tony Mitchell.

As improved as the Owls have been in the blocked shots department, they’re lacking in another defensive category: steals.

Averaging 5.7 steals per game, FAU’s men’s team falls just outside of the top 10 in the SBC for that category. Though eleventh place isn’t far outside the top 10 in steals, the gap begins to widen when one compares FAU’s total of 109 steals to that of ninth place Western Kentucky University (131).

Associate coach Mike Jarvis has a different take on it.

“Steals are an interesting stat. I don’t think they necessarily equate to a good defense,” Jarvis said. “What you have to look at is our field goal defense. We’ve consistently held teams to low percentages.”

Considering that the Owls lead the conference in field goal percentage defense, it’s a hard point to dismiss.

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The women’s team’s progress seems partially owed to off the court success: players just seem to like each other more this year.

“We struggled with team chemistry last year,” Miller admitted.

“We all love each other. We love to hang out,” Smith said of this season’s squad. ”Last year, everyone sort of divided into cliques.”

The team is also enjoying the leadership of a new head coach.

“The most important thing is we’re getting better each game,” Smith said. “Last year, we seemed stagnant.”

“The system has worked well,” Miller said. “The way we play, everyone’s ability has shown.”

Jarvis seems to be convinced of the men’s team’s problem: late game execution. As the head coach puts it, “We’ve lost the game because we needed the ball one more time and we couldn’t get it because we couldn’t put a body on someone. We have to execute on both ends in late game situations. That’s what it comes down to.”