End of the FAU basketball season recap

Mohamed Abdihakim

Towards the midway point of the season, the picture of both of FAU’s basketball teams was relatively bright.

The women’s team was enjoying the rewards of a new defense headed by new coach Kellie Lewis-Jay. The men’s team featured a shooting guard in senior Greg Gantt who at one point was the nation’s third leading scorer. The Lady Owls led the Sun Belt Conference in steals and stood at 10-7 on the year. The men’s team was the SBC’s best shot-blocking team, with their record at an improved 10-10.

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Senior forward Jordan McCoy led the Owls with 191 rebounds this season. Photo by Melissa Landolfa
Senior forward Jordan McCoy led the Owls with 191 rebounds this season. Photo by Melissa Landolfa

A closer look:

The Owls have finished their respective basketball seasons, but both teams lost in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Men’s lost 81-79 to Troy in overtime, while women’s were defeated by ULM, 70-63. Though there were plenty of reasons to believe FAU would make some noise in the Sun Belt Conference this year, there are just as many reasons to not be surprised by their stumbling finish to the season.

When FAU’s men’s team concluded their season, their statistical strongholds were all still there. They tied for first among SBC teams in blocked shots, averaging 5.2 per contest. The Owls also maintained their stingy defense, stymying opponents into shooting 40.9 percent from the field (30 percent on threes).

The Lady Owls also kept up their defensive pace. At 319 steals, they led the SBC in takeaways. The Lady Owls were also the fifth best team in blocked shots, averaging 3.7 swats per game. Junior guard Takia Brooks led the team with 60 steals, her 2.2 swipes per contest placing fourth best in the conference.

What does either team have to show for their statistically sound defense? The Lady Owls ended the year 12-17, with their men’s counterparts closing with a 14-18 mark. Both finished with a conference record of 9-11, leaving them as the second worst teams in their respective divisions.

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By the numbers:

Statistics explained the Owls’ mid-season progress. They can also explain their late season regression.

What starts to become clear upon a closer look is how the Owls’ defensive progress masked some dysfunction.

Let’s look at the men’s team’s success at limiting opponents’ shooting percentage. Though holding opponents to just 40.9 percent shooting from the field, there isn’t a single team in the SBC that has allowed more shot attempts from opponents. Teams have attempted 1873 shots against the Owls, making 769.

The reason that the shots allowed figure is so high is that teams have gotten some of their easiest shot attempts against the Owls. The way they’ve done this is by taking advantage of the Owls’ weakness: dependence.

The Owls’ offense functioned only if Gantt was its primary cog. The result was a guard who led the SBC in minutes played and an isolation-minded offense that mustered a mere 10.1 assists per game (dead last in the conference). Consider this: Gantt was the conference’s best scorer, and FAU was ninth best as a team.

The Lady Owls had their hands all over the place, finishing the year with an SBC-leading 312 steals. Staking that claim came with a price. The gaudy steals numbers involved some risky play on the part of the Lady Owls. Guards and forwards alike often gambled on the off-chance that they were going to directly cause a turnover.

Their risk-taking results in many occasions where a member of the Lady Owls, rushing for a steal, ran right past an opposing player. This broke down the defense, eventually leaving opposing players with open shots. The Lady Owls allowed 79.6 points per game (10th among 11 conference teams). Opponents also made the Lady Owls pay at the three-point line, hitting FAU with 34 percent shooting from deep (10th in 3-point defense).

With coach Lewis-Jay slowly implementing a new emphasis on full-court pressure, there seemed to be a method to madness. But, after seeing the lady Owls’ struggle on defense, it seems more of the latter and less of the former.

Both FAU basketball teams did show improvement in a purely superficial and statistical realm. The problem is that the statistics masked a deeper problem for both teams. No matter its covering ability, once a mask is removed you have what you have: a lot of work to do.

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Men’s: At 21.2 ppg (finishing 10th in the nation) and 4.2 apg, Greg Gantt finishes the year as the Owls’ MVP. Gantt also led the team in steals, collecting 25 swipes on the season.

Women’s: Chenise Miller led the Lady Owls with 52 blocks. She was also the team’s leading scorer at 12.8 ppg. Miller was a defensive force, averaging a team-high seven rebounds per game and recording 38 steals (fifth on the team).