On the surface, three losses in three games sounds bad.
Add in some palm trees, coconut and pineapple, and it gets at least a little more bearable.
But while playing short-handed and inexperienced against stiff competition, Rick Ray and his Bulldogs were able to learn a few things about themselves.
“I think everybody is a lot closer,” point guard Trivante Bloodman said. “We played better competition and it brought us more together. We yelled at each other and motivated each other. We stayed the week together, we saw each other every day and we got a little bond.”
Bloodman, a sophomore, started for MSU alongside two freshmen, a sophomore who entered the season with extremely little playing experience and a senior who has spent the rest of his career as a backup. On the bench, MSU had another freshman, two walk-ons and a host of injured players.
Inexperience, typically a negative, may have helped the Bulldogs through a tough tournament.
When Bloodman chatted with reporters on Monday, he was all smiles and as happy as ever, even admitting one of his nicknames if ‘True Blood.’ You’d have never known his team just dropped three-straight games.
“That’s the youth and inexperience coming out again,” Ray said. “Guys are ready to bounce back and play basketball, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Our guys for the most part – I continue to say this – have been open to being coached and playing hard.”
Said Bloodman, “Sometimes you have to fall to get back up. I feel like with that happening, it really might help us later on in the season. Those three losses, we can get back from that.”
Not only did Maui toughen up the team mentally and for the long term, it gave them lessons to learn from, as well as positives to build on, in the short term.
The biggest problem Ray wants corrected: turnovers.
The head coach said his team had two turnovers for every one assist, a ratio he wants flipped.
“They were just totally oblivious to the fact that their assist-to-turnover ratio as a team and individually, it just blew them away,” Ray said. “Then we went through and added up the points as far as what we gave up on second-chance points against those teams and what we did as far as points off our turnovers. If you add those points up, we’re right there in the basketball game on each one of them. It’s a learning experience for these guys.”
It wasn’t all bad, of course.
Ray said the team came away with some good things to build on. Xs and Os can be corrected, and not all we’re good, but Ray saw positive signs on the floor.
“The number one thing is, I think we played hard,” Ray said. “I think there was not one game where our guys just laid over and quit, and they could have done that, the holes we got into in the first half. I think our guys continued to play hard. I think the biggest thing we take away from it is our guys truly seeing the type of competition they’re gonna playing against at the highest level and what we need to do as far as competing and being in those games at the highest level.”
The competition part is so important, Ray said, because with so few bodies in uniform, MSU’s players are often forced to go against coaches and managers in practice.
The situation is less than ideal and it’s why playing strong clubs like North Carolina and Marquette was such a valuable experience.
Freshmen like forward Gavin Ware and guard Craig Sword, who had never played college basketball until a couple weeks ago, figured out what they can and can’t do.
“Now, Gavin sees that he can’t just turn over that shoulder and put up the jump hook every time,” Ray said. “He’s gotta go around people. Craig Sword that when he drives in there, he’s going against a guy that’s 6’11”. You’ve gotta jump stop and look behind him. Some of the things we talk about and preach at practice came to fruition in the game. Now, guys see, hey, this is what I need to do to get better individually. I think that’s the one advantage that happened out there in Maui.”
Next on the schedule for the Bulldogs: Alcorn State tonight at 7 in The Hump.
“We put Maui behind us and get ready for the next game,” Bloodman said.