When Dalton Pepper assesses his teammates these days, the senior forward sees something he likes.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Pepper said.
Still, it’s been trying at times. Blowing double-digit leads in five of six games – three of them ending in defeat – in a three-week span tends to dampen the mood.
And yet, any lowered spirits among the Owls were given a boost last week as junior guard Will Cummings secured an 83-81 win against Georgia with a game-winning jump shot and a subsequent 21-point thrashing of the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the Charleston Classic.
“The first couple games, here and there we could’ve won all three of those losses we had,” Pepper said. “We picked it up in the last two games and against UAB, we had a 20-point win and that really helped us out and gave us a lot of confidence.”
While the 87-66 defeat of UAB continued the Owls’ (3-3, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) season-long streak of racking up a double-digit lead, it was only the second time in which they held it.
“We have to work on just closing out the second half,” Cummings said. “All the games that we lost, we had a big lead in the second half that we let slip away. We’re just making sure that we play for 40 minutes and pay attention to detail on that aspect and close out our games.”
Although the team’s struggles with playing consistent basketball for the entire 40 minutes in the early going have been well-documented, coach Fran Dunphy has no trouble finding the silver lining.
“So far we’ve done a good enough job to get the lead,” Dunphy said. “I’m encouraged that we’ve gotten leads in the second half. Against UAB, we got a lead and actually broadened it in the second half … We’re playing well enough to get a lead and our 30- to 35-minute game has been good. Now we have to finish games.”
The UAB victory brought the Owls to the .500 mark with a crucial week lying ahead, starting with a Big 5 bout with St. Joseph’s at home Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. in what will be the first non-conference matchup between the two teams in years. Texas and its 6-1 record will await on Dec. 7 at noon at the Wells Fargo Center.
“If we were 6-0 it would be a critical week, if we were 0-6 it would be a critical week,” Dunphy said. “These seasons are so long that you kind of break them up in weeks, and I don’t know how much more of a test we would want in St. Joe’s at [the Liacouras Center] and Texas at Wells Fargo, so it’s a big week for us and I hope we can play accordingly.”
“We know all of the guys on [St. Joe’s],” Pepper said. “We play with them over the summer and this game is about bragging rights, really. Just going out and playing as hard as you can and giving it your all. At the end of the game you want to be the winner and to be able to say we beat St. Joe’s and talk crap.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.