The Wolves (1-2) lost forward Lavon Gray prior to the season and guard Ryan Godfrey in the scrimmage against Jacksonville State. Both are seniors and both were expected to lead an already young squad. Without them and Phillip Flowers, a transfer from South Georgia Tech who was ruled ineligible, UWG is playing with a lot of inexperience.
“What we’ve got is a bunch of young guys out there that haven’t played. Quincy [Hill], Taylor [Cochran], Brett Seljak and Thomas Higginbotham [have played], and that means five to six guys we’re using have never played a college game before this week. You’re going to have good moments and bad moments,” UWG coach Michael Cooney said.
Cochran has returned following a strong showing as a freshman and is leading the team with 12.7 points per game, while Hill adds 11 points per outing and Seljak leads with 7.3 rebounds per game.
Gray was lost just a couple weeks before the season started, but the Flowers’ ruling by the NCAA and Godfrey’s injury gave Cooney even less time to prepare for a season without some expected leaders.
“There’s going to be ebbs and flows and a lot of teaching at this time of year. You would do that in the fall if you had known you were going to be in this situation. Losing Ryan late, that really has put us behind the 8-ball a little bit. Just a lot of situational stuff, position and things that we should have down or be pretty solid on we’ve got to go back and revisit,” Cooney said. “Just not a lot of hard cuts, not a lot of hard curls, so our motion is pretty bland right now.”
The two losses for the Wolves this season have come by a combined eight points, with a three-point loss in the season opener and Tuesday’s five-point setback at Clayton State. One thing the UWG coach has noticed is that his team is playing solid defense, even if the offense isn’t quite where it needs to be yet.
“Our defense is good enough to win. We held Clayton State to 57 points on their floor [Tuesday] night, Miles erupted in the second half with some deep 3s to get 66 on us and we held Morehouse to [under] 60. The defense is good. We’ve got to really work on taking better shots on the offensive end, being more patient, setting more screens and working harder to get good shots,” Cooney said.
Right now, the problem is weighing the fact that the Wolves have remained competitive, while at the same time haven’t seen that in their record early in the year.
“I’m disappointed that, especially the Miles game, that’s the first game of the season and we just made too many mistakes at the end of the game. [Tuesday] night we’re in a four-point game with under a minute to go and had a traveling [call]. The good thing is we only had 10 turnovers, which is where we want to be and the defense was solid the second half. But the last minute we just didn’t seem to get good offensive possessions to win the game,” Cooney said.
“But I do like the fact that we’re competing. I don’t think we were as ready to go as we needed to be in the first half [Tuesday] night. If we play a better first half, we might have been able to take control the second half.”
Tonight’s game will be the last before the Wolves travel to Alabama-Huntsville next Thursday to open Gulf South Conference play and then host GSC newcomer Shorter on Sunday. Even though it’s a little early to be starting conference, in Cooney’s eyes, the focus is less on the opponent and more on getting better.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re playing conference games in November. There’s absolutely no reason for us to be playing these games. Having said that, we just have to keep playing better. We have to play better Saturday, Thursday in Huntsville we have to play better. It’s just way too early to be trying to put any kind of importance on anything other than us improving and doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Cooney said.