It might be worth going through the final two minutes of last night’s loss to Penn. It was a wild back-and-forth affair, but overall, the team that played better last night won. That doesn’t mean RMU didn’t have their chances.
Let’s fast forward to 1:39 left in the game. RMU is up one, Penn has the ball, and RMU comes out in their base 2-3 defense:
The Colonials implemented their “three pass and man up” defense. They flash their base defense, make the offense pass three times, then pick up a man to guard. The second image is the defense getting set after the third pass. You can see Kavon pick up the ball handler, but there’s a bit of a cluster in the middle. Aaron Tate and Rodney Pryor both *might* have the forward on the elbow:
Things get bad a second later. The forward flashes to the corner,where both Pryor and Tate momentarily follow him. Matty McConnell is glued to the corner shooter. This leaves Antonio Woods wide open for a go-ahead three. It’s just too much room for Pryor to make up. I watch the Knicks do this about three times a night.
RMU responded with my favorite set of the game. I (incorrectly) wrote about this last night, thinking Tate was the screener for Pryor in the corner. Wrong. It was Stewart, which I thought was a nice wrinkle in the normal dribble handoff motion offense. Putting two bodies between Pryor and his defender forces an awkward Penn switch. Pryor uses a quick hesitation and then explodes to the basket:
Credit to Elijah Minnie on the drive for just planting his ass in the corner. If his defender collapsed on Pryor, he’s getting a good look from three:
I had a real Dick Vital moment watching that. I went BANANAS. B-e-a-utiful.
The following possession is pretty much the ballgame. Penn has the ball, down one, and a miss means RMU is some free throws away from icing the game. Not to mention, Penn couldn’t hit anything in the second half. That would be a welcoming change from last year’s defensive trend, by the way.
After re-watching this, it’s pretty clear RMU puts together a pretty damn good defensive possession. They again go to their “three passes and man” defense, but the communication is much more clear. They switch on some screens and fly through the passing lanes. Just before the bucket, Pryor missed getting a steal by half a fingernail.
Here’s a few screen grabs from the game-winning bucket, then we’ll walk it back.
Woods drives to the elbow, picks up his dribble, and gets into trouble. Darnell Foreman might appear open on the wing from three, but Elijah Minnie’s octopus arms makes that pass near impossible. What does happen is Darien Nelson-Henry flashes open at the only passing lane available. Kavon Stewart slacked off just enough, and Tate lost Nelson-Henry for a second so he could be open.
Even in that last frame, Tate isn’t in bad position by any means, there’s just a huge size disadvantage. Nelson-Henry not only gets the shot off quick, but he can get it over Tate without much problem. When you’re an undersized forward with that task, you just can’t lose your guy, even for a split second. That’s what happened.
RMU didn’t play awful defensive possessions to end the game. They had one possession of miscommunication that resulted in the three. They had one second of a guy losing his man that resulted in another bucket. It’s unfortunate, but not the end of the world.
RMU still had a chance to win. The only real gripe I had with how the end of the game was handled was not going two-for-one here. There’s 30 seconds left, so try and go at the 15 second mark. If there’s a miss, then RMU could still foul and get the ball back needing a three to tie, worst case scenario. Maybe Donahue fouls RMU, maybe he doesn’t, but at least the pressure is on.
If you re-watch the game, I think RMU actually did want to get something going early. Kavon Stewart is trying to direct traffic, but there’s a whole lot of standing around going on. Toole takes a timeout to draw up a play.
The day he did draw up was really nice. The whole arena knew Pryor was getting the basketball, but the offense did a good job spacing the floor, setting good screens and using the whole floor to keep the eyes off of Pryor.
Frame one: Kavon hands the ball off to Minnie, and is now coming back around to take the ball again. This, at the very least, gives Kavon a little room to breathe and forces a switch to a defender who wants no part of getting up to defend a shot (nor should he). Pryor is on the baseline. You can see McConnell and Tate already setting screens for him.
McConnell sets his screen, then rubs the defender chasing Pryor. Vet move, Matty. Stewart has a nice passing lane:
Pryor gets the ball and rises for the shot. You wouldn’t live with this? As Toole said after the game, if Pryor is taking that shot 31 times this season to win a game, they’ll finish above .500.
Good play, good execution, just a little long.