Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Powell becomes third Pirate in last four years to win Haggerty Award

Myles Powell’s transcendent junior season ends with Pirate sharpshooter taking home Haggerty Award as best in New York metropolitan area. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

On numerous occasions over the past three years, Myles Powell has been praised by both his coach and teammates as a player who will eventually go down in Seton Hall history as one of the greatest to don the blue and white of the Pirates.

The Trenton native has yet to close the book on his legacy in South Orange, but another chapter was written today, when Powell was announced as the latest winner of the Haggerty Award, bestowed annually upon the player judged to be the best in the New York metropolitan area by the panel of writers responsible for voting on the prestigious honor.

Powell, who averaged 23.1 points per game in a season where Seton Hall reached its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament last month, staked his claim to the award with a tour-de-force performance in February and March, taking the Pirates from the bubble into an at-large spot that seemed unattainable at the start of the year, when Seton Hall was picked eighth of ten teams in the Big East Conference’s preseason poll. The junior guard defeated Justin Wright-Foreman of Hofstra and last year’s winner, St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds, to be recognized as the area’s best. Powell also becomes the third Pirate recipient of the Haggerty in the last four years, joining Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado, who took home the recognition in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

In addition, Powell’s coach, Kevin Willard, shared all-Met Coach of the Year honors, splitting the Peter A. Carlesimo Coach of the Year award with Hofstra’s Joe Mihalich. Coincidentally, Willard has received this honor every year that one of his players has won the Haggerty Award. Fordham guard Nick Honor was named Rookie of the Year.

MBWA All-Met First Team
E.J. Crawford, Iona
Darnell Edge, Fairleigh Dickinson
Rickey McGill, Iona
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
Myles Powell, Seton Hall
Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra

MBWA All-Met Second Team
Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn
Mustapha Heron, St. John’s
Abdul Lewis, NJIT
Eugene Omoruyi, Rutgers
Eli Pemberton, Hofstra
Akwasi Yeboah, Stony Brook

MBWA All-Met Third Team
Tajuan Agee, Iona
Geo Baker, Rutgers
Zach Cooks, NJIT
LJ Figueroa, St. John’s
Sean Hoehn, Sacred Heart
Quincy McKnight, Seton Hall
Justin Simon, St. John’s

Sunday, April 21, 2019

St. John’s dysfunction highlights Iona’s consistency as Cluess remains with Gaels

Tim Cluess’ decision to turn St. John’s down after not receiving serious interest is only beneficial to Iona, who will now further solidify its place as New York area’s most consistent program of decade. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

When St. John’s entered the market for a new head coach twelve days ago following Chris Mullin’s resignation that may or may not have been forced, one of the first names to be mentioned for the position — and with good reason — was Tim Cluess, the head coach at Iona College who turned the Gaels into a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference powerhouse.

Cluess checked every box that St. John’s was looking for, save one, that being the school’s unwillingness to pay his buyout and not even speaking to Iona to even negotiate a method of compensation to lure the former Lou Carnesecca player back to a situation that was widely considered his dream job. As a result, the Red Storm trusted its future to Mike Anderson — by all means, a very good hire by athletic director Mike Cragg — after Cluess, who was strung along with no serious intent to be targeted after St. John’s president Bobby Gempesaw and vice president Joe Oliva essentially torpedoed his candidacy, despite being Cragg’s choice after Bobby Hurley said thanks, but no thanks — took his name out of the conversation Thursday morning with the following statement:

“I would like to start by thanking everyone for all their support,” Cluess began. “I am truly blessed to have so many people say so many nice things. When I was unexpectedly contacted last week, it opened up a flood of emotions. For those of you who have ever lost a loved one, you know there are special places, trinkets, and memories that keep them alive in your heart and soul. St. John’s was one of those key places where my love for family has been a part of my life since my earliest memories.”

“In my heart, the thought of reestablishing the connection to my brothers, Kevin and Greg, through the possible opportunity to coach at St. John’s — and the chance to help bring back their rich tradition in the process — made it hard to walk away from. There comes a point where the reality of the situation becomes clearer and moving forward is what is needed.”

And so Cluess, whose four siblings all graduated from St. John’s, an institution he spoke of reverently just sixteen months ago when his Iona team faced the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden, politely told his one-time alma mater that he — in no uncertain terms — was not going to be played like a fiddle when it was clear that he was not wanted by the powers that be at St. John’s. But the loss in Queens is a gain in New Rochelle, where Cluess is welcomed back with open arms and appreciated by everyone associated with the school, to whom he has taken to a half-dozen NCAA Tournaments in nine years at the helm. Furthermore, Iona is the winningest program in the New York metropolitan area under Cluess, and second only behind Syracuse in all of New York State since Cluess replaced Kevin Willard in 2010. Advantage, maroon and gold.

“I love my players at Iona and being a coach here, and I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love at a place I love,” Cluess said Thursday. “I look forward to continuing to grow the Iona program to higher levels.”

As does everyone that continues to support a native son of sorts, despite the ill-advised and misdirected criticisms he may have had in the eyes of St. John’s brass. And although Mike Anderson could eventually prove to be a solid hire, the reality is he has his hands full at a program and in a territory where he has no experience, whereas Cluess can get right back to work with the early favorite to win the MAAC yet again next season, as four starters return to an Iona outfit angling for its unprecedented fifth consecutive conference tournament championship.

Anyone who knows Cluess knows of his ability to produce in clutch situations and when the expectations around him are at their highest. Maybe next March, when St. John’s is in the all-too-familiar situation of being on the bubble and living and dying with each dribble leading up to Selection Sunday, while Iona — assuming all goes according to plan — has a more secure postseason path, will show the decision-makers in Queens what they could have had if only they were wise enough to open their eyes.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mike Anderson Photo Gallery

Photos of Mike Anderson's introduction as the 21st head men's basketball coach in St. John's University history, on April 19, 2019:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mike Anderson expected to be next head coach at St. John’s

Mike Anderson, most recently head coach at Arkansas, appears to be long-awaited choice at St. John’s. (Photo by University of Arkansas Athletics)

The coaching search at St. John’s, one that more closely resembled a roller coaster with its twists, turns and inversions, seems to have reached its conclusion Thursday evening, and done so with a surprise ending.

Mike Anderson, the former head coach at the University of Arkansas, is expected to become the Red Storm’s next leader, according to Newsday’s Roger Rubin, the longtime dean of St. John’s beat writers. Should he agree to terms with the university, Anderson will replace program icon Chris Mullin, who stepped down on April 9 after four seasons at the helm of his alma mater, departing under speculation that he was forced out by university administrators that wanted to press the reset button on a star-crossed program.

Anderson, 59, was dismissed last month by Arkansas after eight seasons at the helm of the Razorbacks, despite reaching the NCAA Tournament three times in the past five seasons and developing a Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in Bobby Portis. In 17 years as a head coach, split between UAB, Missouri and Arkansas, he has a 369-200 lifetime record, and took Missouri to a regional final in 2009. Prior to receiving his first head job, with UAB in 2002, Anderson spent 17 years on the staff of Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, helping cultivate the 40 Minutes of Hell mentality that was instrumental in the Razorbacks winning a national championship in 1994.

Anderson’s candidacy came late Thursday afternoon, adding drama to a day that began with Iona head coach Tim Cluess — a popular choice among fans and media to succeed Mullin — releasing a statement indicating that he had removed himself from consideration for a job widely perceived to be his dream destination, opting instead to remain in New Rochelle, where he has led the Gaels to six NCAA Tournament appearances this decade. Anderson, Yale head coach James Jones, and former Georgia Tech and George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt were reportedly the three finalists for the vacancy late Thursday, with Jones and Hewitt having been informed they were no longer in the running, per sources.

With no clear New York connections, Anderson will need to hire assistant coaches with strong ties to the area as his first priority. His imminent arrival signals an end to a wide-ranging search process that began with Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley as the top target of St. John’s administrators and athletic director Mike Cragg, only to see the former Duke point guard leverage the offer into a contract extension. Loyola’s Porter Moser and UMBC’s Ryan Odom did the same while Cluess was left seemingly twisting in the wind despite massive support, with speculation about the school’s willingness to buy out his contract at Iona among the obstacles in his path.

More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Takal Molson transfers to Seton Hall

Canisius transfer Takal Molson committed to Seton Hall Wednesday, opting to play final two years in South Orange. (Photo by Dean Bogart/The Canisius Griffin)

While one local Big East program continues its meandering search for a head coach, its Hudson River rival took a step toward replacing its cornerstone player following his graduation next May.

Seton Hall — operating in the shadow of St. John’s seemingly never-ending quest to replace Chris Mullin — picked up a commitment from Takal Molson Wednesday evening, fortifying Kevin Willard’s burgeoning core with a proven scorer who can also rebound and facilitate just as well. Molson, viewed as the Pirates’ replacement for Myles Powell after the soon-to-be senior graduates next year, will sit out next season and have two years of eligibility remaining.

“Officially decided to continue my career at Seton Hall,” Molson tweeted Wednesday, nearly one month after announcing his decision to transfer from Canisius. “This is just the beginning.”

Molson, a 6-foot-5 guard from Buffalo, left his hometown Canisius program on March 23, and averaged 16.9 points per game to go with 5.4 rebounds per contest as a sophomore for the Golden Griffins. A first team all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference dejection this past season, Molson was also the MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2018, and led Canisius to runner-up finishes in the MAAC each of the last two seasons, including a share of the 2017-18 regular season championship. Seton Hall assistant coach Duane Woodward, no stranger to competing against Molson from his time on King Rice’s staff at Monmouth, served as lead recruiter for Seton Hall’s newest talent, and quickly established a connection with the guard as soon as he became available, bringing him to South Orange one week after he decided to pursue other options.

“As soon as I entered the transfer portal, Coach Woodward came right out to see me,” Molson told Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press. “When I visited, I loved everything about Seton Hall.”

While on campus, Molson was hosted by sophomore forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, with whom he found a common bond from the time Molson’s hometown travel team in Buffalo visited Mamukelashvili’s native Georgia. Soon, the two will be going up against one another in practices.

Molson’s arrival places Seton Hall one over its scholarship limit, which will likely signal at least one other roster move as Kevin Willard prepares for his tenth season at the helm.

Ten years gone, holding on

Iona’s NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina, one Gaels led at halftime, closed tenth season of this site’s operation. (Photo by Jaden Daly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Ten years, come and gone so fast. 

I might as well be dreaming.

It was on this date in 2009 that this website and this space came to be, started in a college radio station office whose front window afforded a view of the studio from which many of my first experiences in this industry were born into reality. What was a contingency plan in the event that the broadcast career I intended to forge following my graduation from St. John’s University one year prior ended up becoming a life — a full-grown child, in some ways — unto its own, and not once — not ever — did I dare to dream that I would be doing the same thing a decade later.

But here we stand on April 17, 2019, a full ten years removed from Daly Dose Of Hoops’ inception, and even longer since the video above was Oprah Winfrey’s theme music in the 1990s, when I was about the same age — give or take — as the venture I operate now. And even though the overall game count decreased significantly this past season when compared to the output of recent years, it was my intent to provide quality coverage for all 74 contests as if each were the national championship.

I was burned out for months on end after all the hundred-plus-game seasons before these last two, and I wanted to take some time to enjoy life without burning the candle at both ends. On top of that, I saw Josh Verlin — a far more talented writer than I could ever hope to be — disband his fantastic City Of Basketball Love website last fall after going through some of his own adversity, and I didn’t want to lose the fire, the passion with which I chronicle college basketball. So even though I wasn’t around as much, I made that choice for a reason.

It was justified though, as the games we did cover were meaningful in more ways than one. This year’s journey included new destinations, such as Maryland, South Carolina, and Ohio. For the first time in almost three years, we went out to Long Island, where Hofstra’s resurgence made for telling a great story and introducing my audience to the exploits of Justin Wright-Foreman. While Seton Hall returned to the NCAA Tournament and Manhattan continued on the long road back to redemption, we also got to cover St. John’s latest taste of March Madness, and ending the year by watching North Carolina — the school that baptized me to college basketball — battle Iona, with whom we’ve been able to witness mounds of success as this site’s brand has evolved, was the perfect touch of icing on this latest birthday cake.

But enough about me, enough about us. This is about all of you. Without you, there is no me, no us. It is all of you that make us so incredibly blessed to tell the stories we share, as your support is what makes the motor run. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and if you love who you do it for, you’ll have nothing but pride for what you do.

To all the sports information directors and media colleagues that helped promote us and continued to welcome us with open arms, I can’t thank you enough. The same can be said for all the coaches we’ve covered, and we look forward to getting to know Carmen Maciariello, Patrick Beilein and Jay Young just as intimately as we have the rest of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. To my staff, I appreciate your patience and commitment to helping make our outfit what it is. Bob Dea wrapped up his second season as our lead photographer, and his galleries are true works of art. Vinny Simone came on board following the closure of NYC Buckets, and helped out with Hofstra and MAAC coverage so much that I wonder how I ever did it without him. Jason Guerette, in addition to his outstanding work as my tag team partner on Seton Hall coverage, didn’t think I was all that crazy for saying we should drive down to Maryland three days before Christmas, and we were rewarded by getting to see Seton Hall win on the road. At the end of the day, though, all of us were beneficiaries of Jason’s undying passion for his alma mater, which was reflected in the exceptional work he did in this, his fourth year as part of our family.

Finally, I once again thank you, the readers. Without you, we couldn’t go on, and the fact that you joined us for the ride even when it was shorter than usual is something we won’t ever take for granted. I may feel like I cheated you sometimes by not giving you as much content as I once did, but the positive feedback and kind words mean more to me than any of you will ever know. Things like that reinforce my faith in this world and the ability for people like us to make a difference and an impact on one another. I really mean that, and I hope I can continue to make you proud.

In closing, I wish you the very best as this offseason continues to unfold, doing so in the midst of St. John’s wide-ranging search for a successor to Chris Mullin as head coach. Who knows, maybe one of us might get a phone call at this rate. Until we meet again, wherever that may be, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Thank you for everything once more. Ten years have gone, but we’re still holding on, and we’re not letting go anytime soon. Let’s make it another ten more, and maybe even ten after that.

All the best, always.

Jaden Daly
Founder and Managing Editor

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

St. John’s is Clueless if it believes Tim is not the answer

Of everyone linked to St. John’s head coaching vacancy, no one possesses ability to turn Red Storm around quicker or more efficiently than Tim Cluess. (Photo by Vincent Simone/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Unless you’re either flying back from the Final Four or some other destination, or living under a rock — or maybe if you’ve had no access to social media — or any kind of media, period — you now know that St. John’s is once again in need of a head coach after Chris Mullin resigned Tuesday afternoon, closing the book on four years at the helm of his alma mater.

Where, and to whom the Red Storm program turns now is where everyone’s attention has become simultaneously transfixed. And much like when St. John’s and Steve Lavin parted ways four years ago, there is a clear-cut choice to replace Mullin, one who stands head and shoulders above any of his fellow candidate brethren.

That man is none other than Tim Cluess, who for the past nine years has operated in the shadow of both Lavin and Mullin at Iona College — just over the Throgs Neck Bridge and New England Thruway from the corner of Union and Utopia — and taken the Gaels to six NCAA Tournaments in the same timeframe that St. John’s only managed half that total, winning five Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships, including each of the past four.

Like Mullin, Cluess is a native New Yorker. In fact, his Floral Park home is a mere ten minutes from St. John’s Queens campus. Often mentioned for high-major positions as he has turned Iona into a mid-major dynasty, Cluess has eschewed the potential lure of football war chests and million-dollar paydays simply because he is content where he is. But with that said, those who know Cluess best know that if there were one job to get him to even contemplate leaving New Rochelle, it would be at the place he began his collegiate playing career, learning the game from the legendary Lou Carnesecca.

“It means so much to my family and myself,” Cluess said of St. John’s — where his three brothers and sister also attended college — when his Iona team faced the Red Storm in the Holiday Festival in December of 2017. “The passion that came from St. John’s basketball — watching it, being a part of it, growing up with it, especially making the lifelong friends that we’ve all made from that school — it’s been great to our family. I can’t explain to you what this school means to my family. All five of us went there.”

That answers the first question surrounding Cluess, that of who would support him at a place he still obviously loves very much. His rich connections to the New York and New Jersey area will help replenish a St. John’s roster in need of talent enhancement sooner rather than later. And for those questioning whether he could win after his top assistant, Jared Grasso, left for a head coaching opportunity of his own before last year, Cluess won ten of his last eleven games with an Iona team decimated by injuries to reclaim the MAAC championship. Furthermore, his skill of maximizing each individual player’s gifts while tailoring them to fit his system — a hybrid of uptempo offense and pressure defense — has proven to be the common thread between each of his Iona teams, which have experienced roster turnover in almost every way imaginable.

For those who say Cluess cannot recruit, or is heavy on transfers, look no further than A.J. English, Rickey McGill, and E.J. Crawford. Each of those three were four-year starters — Crawford will be when he begins his senior season in November — and each worked his way from role player into indispensable all-league talent and program pillar. And each one has more than one NCAA Tournament appearance on his ledger. With an unmatched eye for finding diamonds in the rough, coupled with his unique way of bringing out the best in everyone, access to a greater and more plentiful talent pool will only burnish Cluess’ reputation on that front. And for those doubting whether transfers would work at a higher level, take a look at what Iowa State did in recent years — with Abdelmassih recruiting the majority of the expatriates, no less — and admit you’re lying to yourself.

If you’re questioning why St. John’s would hire a 60-year-old coach when Bobby Hurley — the popular choice among fans and some media — is 13 years younger, can I mention that St. John’s is no stranger to having veteran coaches at the perceived tail end of their careers? Carnesecca was 67 when he retired in 1992. And if you look at the so-called bluebloods of the sport that some St. John’s fans still dream of becoming, you’ll see Roy Williams about to turn 69 at North Carolina. Mike Krzyzewski is 72, and doesn’t look like he’s leaving Duke anytime soon. Jim Boeheim turns 75 in November, and his demise at Syracuse isn’t around the corner. Cluess may be seasoned at 60, but he definitely has at least another decade left in him, at least. This game may take years off your life, but if you’re active in it, the game also keeps you young.

Finally, athletic director Mike Cragg said the following in his statement issued Tuesday when commenting on the search process to replace Mullin:

“We are committed to building a championship-level program, so we will aggressively search for an experienced coach capable of running a high-level Division I team in New York City, someone who is ready to build upon the recent successes of our program with integrity by recruiting young men of high character.”

Tim Cluess checks all of those boxes. His record — which includes a winning season EVERY year he has coached, wherever he has been, AND a postseason appearance every year at Iona — speaks for itself as far as building a championship-level program. His experience — at the high school, junior college, Division II and Division I levels — indicate the grinder that this program needs to succeed in this market and at this level. And not only did Cluess build upon an already successful Iona history, all of the so-called question marks and checkered pasts that arrived in his gym eventually walked out better basketball players, better young men, and better citizens of this world.

The time of winning press conferences and making big splashes has come and gone. If St. John’s is the program that the bulk of its fan base still professes it to be, then the powers that be will corroborate that vision by hiring the man that will win games in the short term, not headlines. The administration that takes a lot of flak for clinging to the halcyon days of 1985 will use the short-term turnaround as a fuel to ignite a long-term resurgence.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. This is the fourth time in the last decade-and-a-half that St. John’s will be undergoing an extensive rebuild. What has been seemingly broken has yet to be fixed, but standing before the Red Storm is a man with a perpetual Midas touch for even the bleakest of situations.

The choice, as it has been many times before for this program, is clear. Maybe this time will finally be the one in which it makes the right one.

Place your trust in the proven commodity. Take a leap of faith with one of your native sons, and emphasize your core values by welcoming him back into your family.

Don’t be clueless, St. John’s.

Hire Tim Cluess.

Chris Mullin announces resignation at St. John’s

Chris Mullin’s tenure as head coach at St. John’s is over after four seasons, as Red Storm’s all-time leading scorer stepped down from helm of his alma mater Tuesday. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

For the third time this decade, St. John’s embarks upon a search to find a new head men’s basketball coach.

The Red Storm program finds itself in need of a caretaker once again after Chris Mullin, the school’s all-time leading scorer, announced his resignation Tuesday after four years as the successor to Steve Lavin. The move comes just several days after a public vote of confidence from St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg, who on Saturday stated that Mullin was St. John’s head coach and that the school was not actively looking for a replacement, despite vehement rumors that Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley — who, ironically enough, defeated Mullin last month in the NCAA Tournament matchup that turned out to be his final game at the helm — was being targeted for a potential return to the New York metropolitan area.

“The past four years at St. John’s University have been one of the most thrilling and challenging points of my career,” Mullin said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “This has been an extremely difficult decision, but after a recent personal loss, I took time to reflect upon my true values and believe this is the right time to make a change.”

“I’ve been honored to coach the young men who are the heart and soul of this program,” he continued. “It’s a job I will always cherish. I will always support St. John’s University in keeping our basketball tradition alive.”

Mullin’s brother, Roddy, passed away last month, just several days before St. John’s was selected as the last team into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, its first appearance on that stage since 2015 and only the third for the program since 2002. In his four years at St. John’s, Mullin compiled a record of 59-73, progressively improving the Red Storm’s win total in each year he coached. However, he frequently came under fire for a perceived weak non-conference schedule — particularly in this past season — and an inability to translate early-season success into Big East Conference play, where St. John’s went 20-52 under Mullin’s guidance.

The St. John’s coaching staff, which just recently lost top assistant Matt Abdelmassih when he rejoined his mentor, Fred Hoiberg, at Nebraska last week, will run the program until a new coach is named. The loss of Mullin is the latest blow to a program whose offseason has already been quite eventful, starting with the declaration of point guard Shamorie Ponds for the NBA Draft, followed by junior college recruit Cameron Mack reopening his commitment. Immediately following news of Mullin’s departure, which reportedly caught his players by surprise, according to Zach Braziller of the New York Post, sophomore guard Bryan Trimble announced his intent to transfer, while junior guard Justin Simon followed Ponds’ lead in hiring an agent and entering the NBA Draft. Forward Sedee Keita was rumored to be exploring a potential transfer, while Braziller reported that freshman Josh Roberts will wait to see who St. John’s hires before making a decision. Nevertheless, an already questionable front line that must now cope with the graduation of Marvin Clark II becomes an even bigger concern for whomever patrols the sidelines next.

In addition to Hurley, Iona head coach Tim Cluess — a one-time player for Lou Carnesecca before transferring to Hofstra — has also been mentioned as a potential replacement for Mullin, as has former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who took to social media Tuesday to express his interest in a return to the college ranks. Hurley is viewed as the prohibitive favorite, due to both his New York ties and a connection to Cragg, who spent three decades as the administrator of the men’s basketball program at Duke, and was sports information director in Durham during Hurley’s college career. Should the 47-year-old decide to leave Arizona State, it would bring St. John’s full circle in a way, considering that his younger brother Dan — now the head coach at the University of Connecticut — was considered the popular choice to replace Lavin four years ago before the job ultimately went to Mullin.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Shaka, Texas find consistency at right time with NIT title

Shaka Smart and Texas celebrate NIT championship at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK — Shaka Smart arrived in the media room, his nicely tailored white dress shirt soaked.

The Texas coach constantly roams the sidelines during games. Intensity and concentration are his traits as he works every single possession. In this case, the shirt was not bearing the effects of perspiration. Smart had been given an impromptu shower by his team.

“I got into the locker room and my guys soaked me with water,” the 41-year-old coach remarked after his Longhorns defeated Lipscomb, 81-66, in Thursday’s National Invitation Tournament championship game. “I am just so happy for them. It’s great to win a championship in any type of tournament you get in. There are 32 really good teams in the NIT, so to be the last team standing and be able to win a championship is big.”

With his signature Havoc scheme, Smart garnered a reputation as a defensive coach during his tenure at VCU. During his time at Texas, Havoc has been employed judiciously in stretches, not the full game as it was at VCU. Schemes may change, but the emphasis on the importance of defense has not wavered. Texas started slow, then built a 14-point halftime lead as its offense perked up. During the second half, the Longhorns buried eight three-pointers, negating any chance for Lipscomb to stage a serious run, but make no mistake, this was about defense.

Garrison Matthews, Lipscomb’s prolific scorer, posed a concern for Texas. Matthews had scored 44 in the quarterfinals at NC State and 34 in the semis against Wichita State. He was on a roll. Smart decided to put freshman Courtney Ramey on the senior Matthews.

“All year I have drawn a tough defensive assignment,” Ramey said outside the victorious Texas locker room. “I love the challenge, it’s what I do.”

Ramey knew Smart had no help in the defensive scheme. The two studied tape of Matthews to get a look at his tendencies and come up with a plan.

“We had a short turnaround,” Ramey said. “We saw how he liked to come off screens, catch and shoot. My goal was to beat him to the spot and deny that.”

Mission accomplished. Matthews scored a pedestrian 15 points, missing eight of his ten field goal attempts, his struggles and lack of consistent scoring from the supporting cast spelling doom for Casey Alexander’s Bisons.

In 1978 Texas claimed the NIT championship, rolling over NC State in the final. The Longhorns were coached by Abe Lemons. Known for his wit and one-liners, Lemons could coach. At any rate, in typical Lemons fashion, he lit up a victory cigar on the sideline as the clock ticked off its final seconds. Times have changed. They have changed quite a bit in Austin as well.

Back in 1978, the Texas SID sent his assistant to New York for the NIT as he stayed home to work on the football media guide. Football ruled. Basketball was a pleasant diversion to fill the time between the bowl game and start of spring practice. Today, the Longhorn basketball program is considered a major player on the college basketball scene. Expectations are lofty. While the administration undoubtedly takes pride in bringing the NIT trophy home from New York, make no mistake, the ultimate goal is to be in contention for games played on a Saturday and/or Monday in April.
Texas finished 16-16 in a regular season many would consider a disappointment. Inconsistency was the enemy. Then the NIT called. Smart’s group took the opportunity and ran with it.

“I think our young guys made a lot of progress,” he said. ‘But our seniors stepped up and played like you want seniors to play down the stretch. Those guys had their ups and downs, so it’s great to see them finish the season and their careers on such a high note, winning the championship and winning their last five games.”
The championship will be savored. Smart, thinking ahead, is adamant on not resting on his laurels. His focus is building on the momentum.

“I told our young guys, ‘You have experienced here what goes into winning,’” he noted. “Teams have won the NIT and used that as a springboard into a more successful season the next year.”

The Texas mentor also cited teams that did not build off their NIT success. For Smart, his aim is to have his group take the experience and translate this into a NCAA Tournament bid and prolonged run.

“Our guys got that chance to realize what they need to do to win more championships,” he observed.

While grabbing the title in the process.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Texas vs. Lipscomb Photo Gallery

Photos from Texas' 81-66 win over Lipscomb in the National Invitation Tournament championship on April 4, 2019:

(All photos by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)