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Men’s basketball’s aggressive defense not enough in 76-65 loss to Trinity

By Garrett Cote

SPRINGFIELD – Mike McClendon couldn’t help but rest his face deeply into his palms and shake his head as he witnessed his team commit yet another turnover. 

The first-year head coach of the Pride men’s basketball program hasn’t quite cracked the code when it comes to getting through to his players about taking care of the basketball. Springfield was plagued by another 20 turnovers (three below its season average of 23 per game) in its 76-65 loss against Trinity on Wednesday night in Blake Arena.

McClendon’s message in the adolescence of his tenure with the Pride has been to play with tempo – “controlled chaos” as he calls it – which has seen spurts of success. But the inability to sustain those spurts is what ultimately defines Springfield’s 1-5 record this season.

“Turnovers are a part of the game, right, but to minimize it, we need to take care of the ball and make smarter decisions,” McClendon said. “Our guys are making aggressive mistakes. As a coach, you can live with that. We want to play fast tempo and downhill, so we’re going to have turnovers. But 20 is not what we want.”

Turnovers aside, the Pride put together one of their more complete games of the season. They were only outrebounded by six, their team defense was filled with energy from start to finish, and when they did hold onto the rock, they outscored Trinity 19-14 in transition.

If Springfield doesn’t shoot as high a percentage as its opponent, or can’t seem to knock down its three-pointers at a high clip, those are components of the game McClendon can live with. The energy and effort categories – rebounding, steals, second chance points, and fast break points – are where the Pride cannot be outworked. That’s where the game is won or lost.

“The guys are playing their butts off. It’s all an intention. Defense is an intentional thing. You have to want to play defense,” McClendon said. “You can have the best gameplan, but if guys aren’t willing to do it, you won’t be a good defensive team. Tonight the guys showed intention, and one of the things we say is ‘multiple efforts, multiple times,’ and that’s something they did.”

After a layup from first-year Josiah Evely cut the first-half deficit to 37-33 with under three minutes to go, the Pride could feel they were a few plays away from altering the complexion of the game. But an 8-1 burst from Trinity put the Bantams ahead 45-34 heading into the break.

Previous contests in the early stages of the 2022-23 campaign have seen Springfield lose its mojo in the first five minutes of second halves, especially when trailing by double digits. All signs pointed to another latter half letdown following the Trinity run to end the first.

Andrew Rocci (17 points) had other plans. The sophomore forward scored five of his 11 second-half points in the first minute of the second, and a layup from first-year guard John Paulino cut the Bantams lead down to four, 45-41. That stretch, even in the loss, satisfied McClendon – as his team showed a sense of desperation and fight he hadn’t yet seen.

“I told them you have to play pissed off,” McClendon said. “You have to say enough is enough. We gave up 100-plus points in the last home game, you gotta get to a point where enough is enough. What are you made of, what is your caliber and what character do you have? And they came out and responded. The game was there for the taking, they just had a little bit more firepower than we did.”

With fifth-year guard Daryl Costa among several players dealing with injuries, Springfield has looked to a plethora of players to provide scoring this year. John Paulino dropped 18 points on Nov. 16 against Eastern Connecticut State, Evely poured in 20 in the Pride’s lone victory against Lehman back on Nov. 12, and Curtiss Blische (18 points) and Zeke Blauner (17 points) carried the load last week against Keene State.

Tonight it was Rocci’s turn to provide the bulk of the scoring, as his 17 points on Wednesday were a career-high since joining the Pride via transfer in the back half of last season.

“My whole playing career, I’ve just done what I needed to do for my team,” Rocci said. “If scoring is what I have to do to win, I’m going to do it. I just have that dog in me to do whatever is needed.”

Andrew Rocci (24) drives past a Trinity defender. (Garrett Cote/The Student)

Although wins haven’t piled up for the Pride, it’s evident that this team has improved – in all phases of the game – since the opener against Western New England. They displayed a no-quit attitude that can be built upon moving forward.

The energy of the bench was heard from start to finish, regardless of whether or not Springfield was within striking distance or not, players were diving after loose balls on the floor, and even those that weren’t suited up had lost their voices by game’s end due to their loud cheering.

“We just didn’t give up, right from the start,” Rocci said. “We played our basketball the way we’ve been doing in practice. I think once we really kind of saw that we’re capable, we just carried it through the whole game. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.”

Springfield hits the road for two consecutive tough matchups against NESCAC opponents, starting first with Amherst on Dec. 6 at 7:00 p.m. The Pride look to snap a four-game losing skid with what would be their first win against the Mammoths since 2016.

Photos by Garrett Cote/The Student

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