For coach Fran Dunphy turnovers equal headaches.
Fortunately, he was feeling only a subtle pain instead of a throbbing migraine in Thursday’s 79-65 win over Saint Joseph’s at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. The quarterfinals matchup in the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament ended with 15 Owl turnovers, including 13 in the second half. Still, the defending champs have a date with Xavier in the semifinals on Friday night.
“Saint Joe’s gave us everything we could handle in that later stretch and hopefully we got a lot of our poor decisions out of the way,” Dunphy said “We’ll be more concerned with taking care of the basketball [against Xavier].”
The Owls (20-11) maintained efficiency with the basketball in the first half, giving it up only twice. The steady hands of freshman guard Juan Fernandez and senior guard Semaj Inge helped lead to 43 team points and a commanding lead. The offense moved fluently, and rarely looked lost.
In the second half, however, the guards had more trouble breathing and were sporadically hounded by a Hawks press. The pressure contributed to 13 more turnovers and a trimmed victory margin. The Owls built a firm enough lead to surpass an inconsistent Hawks squad, but will need to be more meticulous against the well-tuned Musketeers.
“[Turnovers are] very important in every game especially this game coming up against Xavier because if we turn the ball over they are going to probably capitalize on it,” Inge said. “We’ve got to limit our turnovers as much as possible here on out,” he added.
Of all the Owls to touch the ball against the Hawks, Inge had the best assist to turnover ratio. His 4-2 mark gave the Owls some balance in the backcourt. Senior guard Dionte Christmas, who was hampered by the Hawks’ defense all day, led the team with five cough-ups.
In the past two showdowns against the Hawks (Feb. 12, March 5), the Owls succumbed late second-half blunders. Turnovers didn’t take away wins, but certainly made them more difficult. Dunphy has been very particular about hanging on to the ball this season.
“He stresses it all the time,” Inge said. “Some turnovers he can deal with because if we turn it over and it goes out of bounds than we get to set our defense, but the turnovers where they run it down and score that’s the ones that really, really hurt.”
Entering Thursday’s game, the Owls were averaging 11.1 turnovers per contest. Overall when reducing turnovers to 10 or fewer the Owls are 7-2. Both statistics will be tested when Xavier steps on the court Friday night. On the road against the Musketeers on Feb. 5, the Owls protected the ball well—just eight turnovers—but still fell short 83-74. The other loss came at the hands of Massachusetts on Jan. 17, when the Owls lost the ball only six times.
The Owls have come a long way since that setback. More consistent play during the second half of the season can be attributed to the turnover department. In the team’s first ten games, the Cherry and White committed 14.8 turnovers per game. In the most recent stretch of 10, the team is averaging 11.6.
If the Owls want to play in to the championship game on Saturday, it will hinge on their ability to shield the ball away from Musketeers’ defenders. It will also be the best medicine for their coach’s headaches.