By Garrett Cote
Mike McClendon emerged from the depths of Blake Arena, where the Springfield men’s basketball team’s locker room is located, shortly after the Pride’s 89-55 blowout loss against Western New England on Wednesday night.
McClendon wore the same wide smile he possessed before tip-off as he walked toward his loved ones who were waiting patiently to embrace him. Hugs and kisses from his kids, his wife and other members of his family soon followed.
Despite his first career game at the Birthplace not going as planned, having his support system there was what mattered most.
“At the end of the day, it’s a game,” McClendon said. “It’s an important game, but it’s a game. Family is so much more important for me, and having them here to support me was huge. Unfortunately, they had to witness that. But I wouldn’t be able to get through a loss like that if they weren’t here.”
It didn’t take long for Springfield to realize it was outmatched. The Golden Bears jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the blink of an eye, putting the Pride in scramble mode from that point on. Springfield went seven minutes and 53 seconds of game time with no points, and this allowed Western New England to only expand its lead as the first half progressed.
“We’ve got a lot to fix,” McClendon said. “We got punched in the face. Today we just didn’t have it, offensively or defensively. They were able to hit a ton of shots, and when you’re going against a team that can hit a ton of shots on the regular, it’s going to be tough. Especially when you’re not locked in.”
A 9-0 spurt sparked on the defensive end – leading to good looks in transition – brought the score to 33-20 late in the first half, but the Golden Bears closed the final stretch with an 8-0 run of their own to regain momentum heading into the break.
“They stayed together, they were talking more and they were engaged more,” McClendon said of the difference in play during the 9-0 run. “A lot of the times during the game, we were disengaged with each other. In that stretch, we showed what we were capable of. The problem is, we couldn’t sustain it.”
The Pride were out-rebounded 47-30, a direct correlation to them being outworked and outhustled. For a team that has so desperately preached to not repeat last season’s nightmare, the lack of energy presented Wednesday doesn’t seem to match that notion.
“Rebounding is just a mentality switch,” graduate student and captain Daryl Costa said. “I truly believe that. When you want to do it, you’re gonna do it. We haven’t wanted it yet, we haven’t got there yet.”
Even with Springfield down by 35 points late in the second half, every member of the Pride that was on the bench was chanting “defense, defense” and encouraging the players on the floor. The culture and comradery is certainly evident, but translating that chemistry to the court is still a work in progress.
“We lost that fight within us throughout the game,” Costa said. “We’re complaining about the grind when that’s what we came here to do. We came here to get better, we came here to play, we came here to win. We’re not there yet, but I got full faith in my guys. We don’t give up, and it’s only up from here.”
Springfield travels to Western Connecticut State on Saturday for the Western Connecticut State Invitational tournament. The Pride will have two games over the weekend — two chances to right the ship.
“Back to the drawing board, that’s all,” McClendon said. “I’m going to find guys who are going to put their heads down and go to work. It’s time to really go to work and see who wants this thing.”
Photo by Nico Fiscella/The Student