Cougars Come Close, But Close Isn't Good Enough

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John Royal
Zamal Nixon looks for the open guy in the first half
Basketball teams don't win games they let the opponent shoot 50 percent from the floor. They also don't win basketball games when they miss 12 of 31 free throw shots. Or take ill-advised three-point shots when hanging on to a one-point lead and less than half a minute remaining in the game.

The Cougars did all of this and more last night. The shocking thing then isn't that they lost 63-62 to Marshall. The shocking thing is that they only lost by one point in a game when all of those things happened, along with a near inability to hit any of their three-point shots coupled with an inability to stop Marshall from scoring on endless backdoor lay-ups and dunks.

Even more shocking, more shocking than all of that is that, with 0.9 seconds remaining on the clock, Alandise Harris did his best Peyton Manning and heaved the ball the length of the court to Maurice McNeil in the lane. McNeil had time to grab the ball, turn and put up a shot that bounced off the backboard, inches away from going through the hoop, as the clock hit 00:00.

"We just can't finish close games at the end," Harris said. "We're turning the ball over and not doing what coach said. We're doing different things."

Different things like on one of their final possessions and clinging to a 62-61 lead and Zamal Nixon, instead of driving the lane and either dishing off, getting the lay-up, or getting to the free throw line, let the clock tick down and had to take an ill-advised off-balance three-pointer. Or different things like having Alandise Harris make a monster block with about ten seconds remaining on the clock. The ball, to Harris, appeared to be going out of bounds, but Adam Brown stepped in and tipped the ball back in bounds to Marshall's Aundra Williams, who made the lay-up to put Marshall up for good.

This was the fourth straight loss for the Cougars, the fourth straight close loss in a game that the Cougars should have won, probably could have won, but instead lost. It's a loss that dropped the Cougars to 11-10 on the season and 3-5 in Conference play. And it's a loss which sees a once promising season for an undermanned team falling by the wayside.

"It's frustrating because we know we're right there," McNeil said. "We're just not closing game outs. Not finishing. It's frustrating."

That the Cougars were even in the game was a testament to their ability to compete. And for the most part, this whole season has been testament to the team's ability to compete. But at some point, competing's not enough and the team has to come through and pull out the win.

"We've got to be more cerebral and make plays," said head coach James Dickey. "I've got to coach them better to where they understand about key situations and what to do."

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John Royal
Adam Brown puts up a floater
The Cougars trailed for most of the night, their inability to execute on offense and defense keeping them from leading throughout once again. And when they did execute the offense, did get to the free throw line, they couldn't make the free throws. Harris did everything possible throughout the night to get the line, shooting 20 times from the charity stripe. Unfortunately, he hit only 12 of those shots.

Still, when Harris hit a jumper with 3:18 in the game to pull the Cougars within three points, it appeared that they might be able to pull out the win as they were executing the offense the best they had been all night. But the Cougars failed to make a shot from the floor the rest of the game.

"Bottom line is, we just did not execute, and have not, in the last four games in the last three minutes of the game," Dickey said. "We've got to coach better in those situations and get our guys to playing better."

The Cougars are an undermanned team this season. Most teams they play probably have more talent than they do. In many ways, the Cougars should probably be congratulated for having won 11 games so far, and for being in a position to have won several more that they have lost. But it's not about so-called moral victories, moral victories in which James Dickey says he does not believe.

The time is running out for the Cougars to salvage this season. If they can start executing their offense properly the entire game and not just for spurts, then they stand a chance. If they can stop the mental lapses, stop giving up the easy baskets on defense, then they stand a chance. And maybe, just maybe, if they can ever learn to hit a free throw, they'll stand a chance.

And in the end, when most teams are more talented and have deeper benches, a chance is all that one can ask. Right?

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Cougars travel to Tulsa for a game with the Golden Hurricane on Saturday, and then are off for most of next week before hosting Tulane on February 12....The Cougars have lost their last four C-USA games by a combined 18 points....After last night's loss, the Cougars are 9-3 at Hofheinz on the season.

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