I was knocked out of my usual Thursday night column spot (and a trip to beautiful Newark, N.J.) by jury duty this week. But that won’t stop me from rendering a verdict on U of L’s 80-77 loss to Seton Hall.
I’ll save a more detailed analysis for later, but I’m just going to come straight to the point of the one thing that will help this team more than any other, the one thing that will be its key to success moving forward (with all respect to the importance of defense, which tonight was, for much of the game, putrid).
And that one key can be summarized in these four simple words: Make a damn shot.
A three-pointer. A free throw. Anything.
You can wring your hands over Terrence Jennings playing time, and why Peyton Siva isn’t yet emerging, and why Edgar Sosa is being Edgar Sosa, and why Pitino let his team go see magician Lance Burton on its trip to Vegas, because Jerry Smith’s jump shot has disappeared.
You can get into all of that, and any number of peripheral issues.
I say none of it matters if the Cards can make an open shot.
If the Cards had shot just 33.3 percent from three-point range — generally considered the bare minimum — they’d be on a three-game winning streak. And it’s not that they’re taking bad threes. They’re missing open ones.
It would’ve meant six points in a three-point loss at Seton Hall. It would’ve meant 12 points in an 8-point loss to Villanova. The Cards did shoot the three well enough to win at Pittsburgh, but there’s another kind of open shot to consider.
After a great showing from the free throw line against Villanova, U of L has made just 57.2 percent of its free throws the past two games. Had it shot just 68 percent, that would’ve made for enough points to beat Pittsburgh on the road, and would’ve made for at least a regulation tie at Seton Hall.
Shooting, U of L coach Rick Pitino says, covers a multitude of sins. If ever a team needed the saving grace of a jump shot, it was this one.
This team has inherent shortcomings. Part of what made people think it would compete anyway was that, on paper, it should be a good shooting team.
While there are plenty of things going on that aren’t good with this team, even when it plays well, it’s going to be hard-pressed to win if it can’t shoot a decent percentage from the three-point and free-throw line.
One final thought with regard to field-goal percentage. Samardo Samuels was open at least eight times that I counted in the game without getting the ball in the post. I’ll try to go back over the recording and get the actual count. Five players got more field-goal attempts than Samuels, including Rakeem Buckles, Mike Marra, Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles.
Bottom line. As bad as U of L played at times on Thursday, if it gets Samardo Samuels a dozen shots it wins the game. Period. Instead, of the four field goals he made, three came on put-backs.
You can’t control whether the ball goes in, but you can control who is getting the shots, and U of L’s guards are far too experienced to have any excuse for not getting Samuels the ball.
Case closed. Not yet on the season, but this team had better have one impressive closing argument.