Commodores take "big step" backwards
Panama City, FL: Heading into Thursday night's road tilt against Pensacola State, No. 12 Gulf Coast was set up perfectly to finish the first round of Panhandle Conference games at 3-1.
Pensacola State was just 1-5 coming in with its only win of the season coming over a prep school, Florida Coastal Prep.
However, on the heels of a 74-67 loss to the Pirates, the Commodores find themselves at 2-2 and at something of a crossroads just a quarter of a way through the league schedule.
"We took a big step backwards," Gulf Coast coach Phil Gaffney said of his team. "Give (the Pirates) credit, they did a good job, but the problem is we're not getting better and not doing what we're supposed to do and that's on me."
Gulf Coast shot just 33.9 percent from the field against the Pirates and turned the ball over 21 times while allowing the Pirates to shoot 46.6 percent from the field.
Gaffney said the biggest issue for the Commodores was the inability to do the smallest, simplest things on the court.
"It's just sloppiness," he said. "Like a jump-stop that you generally learn in the
third grade so you don't charge into people, how to play off two feet instead of one.
I don't know how many charges we had (against Pensacola State), but it had to be well
above five. We literally just ran through people. It's just basic fundamentals like
passing and catching that has eluded us.
"We continue to make the same mistakes over and over. At this stage of the game we're still not doing the basic fundamentals and I don't know how that can possibly be. I have to do a better job. We're doing the same things wrong over and over again, so that's my fault and I've got to do a better job."
Gulf Coast appeared to have righted the ship following its 86-74 loss to No. 2 Tallahassee, beating Northwest Florida State 76-69 on the road Tuesday behind a strong shooting performance from Jammy Pierre-Louis, who scored 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting and 4 of 9 from three.
"I thought we corrected those mistakes after Tallahassee and then went into the Northwest Florida State game and we really cleaned up so many of our mistakes we made so I felt really good about it," Gaffney said. "But we fell right back into those mistakes in this game.
"Last year's team went the way most of my teams have, which is they kept getting better and better and then you want to peak in March. This year you're trying to peak in April, but we're going backwards. We played a great game against Northwest Florida State and then we took a big step backwards. It's one thing to lose to Tallahassee, who are obviously ridiculously talented, but the (Pirates) hadn't won a game against a college this season, so that's underachieving. That's not getting better."
Fortunately for the Commodores they've got some time to regroup and refocus before their next Panhandle outing on Wednesday at Chipola. That will be the third in a string of four consecutive league road games culminating with a trip to Tallahassee on Feb. 20 to take on the undefeated Eagles.
It's also enough time to possibly get back two key players who have been out of the lineup in 6-foot-10 freshman center Roman Wilson and 6-5 freshman guard Trashawn Wilson.
Whether those two return to the lineup for next week's games or not, Gaffney said it's imperative that his players use this time off to get in the gym and focus on the most basic aspects of the game.
"It's a good time to get some rest and a good time to work on fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals," he said. "It's time to do the stuff you did as seventh and eighth graders. You might say, 'wow that's very remedial,' but that's what we need to work on.
"Obviously if we're not doing it well then I didn't do a good enough job of doing it previously. We've been here since August. How can we work on this stuff every day and not be good at it at all? I'm the coach, so it's on me when we don't execute fundamentals, so we've got to stop it right now."
There's still plenty of time for the Commodores to get moving in the right direction with 12 more league games to go, but Gaffney made it clear that if his team is going to return to the postseason for a second straight year, it's going to require a higher level of play than what it showed on Thursday.
"The first time through the conference at 2-2, that's not good, not if you're trying to compete," Gaffney said. "We're not going in the right direction, but we'll figure it out. There are always bumps in the road and there were bumps last year. We just have to work harder and get back to playing how we're capable, that's all it is."