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Powell, Commodores adjusting after slow start
By DUSTIN KENT
News Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Posted Jan 17, 2018 at 6:24 PM

 

PANAMA CITY — Down 18-4 to Pensacola State on Saturday night and staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start to the Panhandle Conference schedule, Gulf Coast was facing a minor crisis just five minutes into its third league game. An 0-3 record would not have eliminated the Commodores from postseason play, but climbing out of such a hole to finish in one of the top two spots in the most competitive JUCO conference in the country would’ve been a difficult task, to say the least.

 

Fortunately for the Commodores, they rallied back for a 59-57 victory on the strength of one of their best defensive outings of the season to stay out of the Panhandle Conference cellar. It wasn’t technically a must-win game for the Commodores, but Gulf Coast players said Wednesday that it was a win that they knew they needed to get.

 

“After those two losses, it put a lot of pressure on us,” sophomore guard Josh Wade said. “We wanted to really win bad and get that first win for the fans and we went out and did that. I’m really proud of my team. Now we’ve got Chipola coming up and we need to get it up to two wins and get on a roll.”

 

Gulf Coast (15-5 overall, 1-2 in conference) has no mid-week game and next travels to Marianna to face the Indians (13-4, 1-1) on Saturday. Chipola will play at Pensacola State on Thursday before welcoming in the Commodores.

 

Freshman guard Myles McGregor said the first two conference games – a 91-73 home loss to Tallahassee and a 95-53 road loss

to top-ranked Northwest Florida State – were a real eye-opener for him and the other Gulf Coast freshmen.

 

“I want to say I knew the conference season would be a challenge, but I didn’t know how big of a challenge,” he said. “But I feel as if, after we got those first two games under our belt and got a win in the third game, we definitely know what we need to do to get the job done.”

 

The team’s top perimeter shooter, McGregor struggled mightily in his first two league outings, going a combined 1 of 10 from the 3-point line before hitting 4 of 9 from deep and scoring 14 points in Saturday’s win. Sophomore forward Will Robinson said he’s not surprised that it took time for the newcomers to adjust to the increased intensity of Panhandle play.

 

“Honestly, I feel like they were just unaware of how the level of play goes up,” he said. “Now, they’ve got their feet wet and they understand how the players and teams play so hard and together during conference play. I’ve been telling them that since probably 10 games into the regular season. I don’t think they believed me, but they do now.”

 

However, it wasn’t just the players who had to adjust after the two lopsided league losses. Commodores coach Jay Powell, after seeing his team surrender an average of 93 points through its first two outings, decided to go away from the traditional man-to-man defense he loves to employ and went primarily to zone defense against Pensacola State.

 

The result was the Pirates being held to their second-lowest scoring output of the season and shooting just 31 percent from the field after a red-hot start. Powell said the change wasn’t one he was totally comfortable with, but it was one that was necessary after watching his team get torched by TCC and Northwest.

 

“I’ve kind of always seen myself as a getting down and dirty, hard-nosed man-to-man kind of guy, but at the same time, I want to win,” he said. “It was just looking at the film as objectively as possible and seeing what changes need to be made for us to get better.

 

“I don’t know what the result would’ve been (against Pensacola State) if we’d played man, but holding a Panhandle Conference team to 22 points in the second half with nine of those 22 coming in the last minute and 38 seconds is pretty good. The results were much better and that’s what you want, for the end result to be that we win.”

 

Powell said he will continue to employ a mix of different zone defenses going forward, depending on the opponent.

 

“I always believe in gameplanning that you have to do what you do well, but you also have to take advantage of what the other team doesn’t do well, so we’ll see,” he said. “But I’m going to stop short of saying I’m a zone guy now.”

 

Freshman forward Marlon Adams said he believes the Commodores are more effective with the zone defense due to their size and length on the perimeter.

 

“Traditionally, guards are not this big at the JUCO level,” he said. “Our point guard is 6-3, Josh Wade is 6-5, I’m 6-5, and we’ve got (6-8 freshman Quadree Smith) and some other big guys inside. We’re a longer team, so we can play higher zones sort of like Syracuse and make it tough on teams.”

 

Regardless of what style of defense they play, McGregor said he believes the Commodores have learned from their two losses what kind of focus and intensity they’re going to need to play with if they’re to seriously compete in the conference.

 

“It’s kind of like when you get in trouble as a kid and you get popped in the mouth once and then after that you make the adjustment and it doesn’t happen any more,” he said. “I definitely think that’s kind of what it was. I feel like we got popped in

 

the mouth, came back and fought and now we know what we have to do to make sure we don’t get popped again.”

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