Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Mental Lapses Cost VSU Against Bowie State
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 29, 2014, 22:56

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
ETTRICK Bowie State's Ray Gatling dribbled toward his left while keeping one eye on the shot-clock in front of him as it ticked down toward zero. Once it reached 10, Gatling took off toward his right before pulling up for a mid-range jumper which banged off iron and fell into a pile of players reaching for it as the whistle blew.

Jump-ball with possession going to Virginia State University.

The Daniel Gymnasium crowd immediately erupted in raucous cheering. The Trojans had possession, trailing 60-59 with 20 seconds remaining. Then, the Trojans' Allen Harris inbounded the ball from the baseline to a cutting Lamar Kearse who immediately raced up the court before calling a timeout as he crossed half-court.

Virginia State head coach Lonnie Blow Jr. talked to his team in the huddle after glancing at the scoreboard just 13.7 remaining before drawing up a play which could give the Trojans their fifth-consecutive victory. The horn then roared, signaling the end of the timeout as Virginia State went to inbound.

Kearse came off a back-screen by the foul-line, but was quickly fronted by a Bowie State guard, leaving the inbounds pass to be corralled by Harris. The senior swingman pivoted to his left before starting his drive to the basket as seconds ticked off the clock.

Harris drove past his defender and successfully reached the paint before drawing contact as he released floater which banked off glass but never touched iron as it was corralled by the Bulldogs. The outlet pass to the opposite side of the court found the hands of Carlos Smith as he finished the lay-up for two of his 13 points and delivered the dagger to the Trojans in a 62-59 loss.

"We did some good things, but we just had a few lapses both defensively and offensively," Blow Jr. said after the loss. "In close games, you can't do those things that come back to haunt you."

And perhaps it was nothing the Trojans (11-8) did late which caused the heart-break, but what occurred to start the game against Bowie State (10-11).

Virginia State had won four consecutive contests heading into the game, clearly confident about the way they had been playing of late while also knowing they were facing a Bulldogs squad which had lost seven of their previous 10.

It was a game which seemed ripe for the picking, yet just 2:17 into the game, the Trojans looked up toward the scoreboard and saw an 8-0 deficit. It was a hole dug by taking two bad shots and turning the ball over twice while allowing Bowie State to get good looks off of back-cuts to the basket.

And it was following Smith's 3-pointer that Blow immediately stomped his foot and looked on with disgust before turning toward his bench to replace his starting five.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

"Mentally you are not into it when you start off that poorly," Blow Jr. said. "That's when you know you have to give someone else a chance."

The whole sequence should have been enough to foreshadow the devastating loss, but the Trojans fought back after being put in the early hole. Brandon Farmer nailed a 3-pointer just moments after being placed into the game for three of his 5 points, while Allen Harris also gave Blow Jr. good minutes in a 10-point effort on 5-of-12 shooting from the field.

Once the substitutes jump-started the offense, the starters followed suit with their defensive tenacity and focus on cleaning up the glass on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court. In fact, it was Larry Savage who led the way in the first half of play, scoring 8 of his team-high 13 points, including setting up a pass to Kevin Wiggins which gave the Trojans their first lead, 28-26.

"We just kept plugging at it, staying in there and we got a couple of stops to help us when the shots weren't falling," Blow Jr. said following his team's 36 percent shooting effort. "At the end of the day, you have to execute and execute great down the stretch."

Unfortunately, it was down the stretch where the Trojans faltered, scoring just five points over the final 4:28 of action. Even with Virginia State dominating the rebounding battle, 41-33, and turning 10 Bowie State turnovers into 17 points, in a game which had 13 ties and 14 lead changes, it was the Bulldogs who came out on top.

Bowie State's inside presence on the offensive-end with their ability to penetrate the lanes and dish to cutting teammates led to a 28-12 advantage on points in the paint. It may have been the only area Blow Jr's squad failed in, making the loss all the more difficult to take.

"It just comes down to a play here or play there," Blow Jr. said. "The game is not won on the last possession. It's always won or lost a lot earlier than that. You have to make sure you value every possession and make sure it's a good one."

In a three-point loss, it was one or two possessions where the Trojans were either late on a switch or rushed a shot which led to just their second defeat at home all season. With just six games left, Virginia State can't afford more mental lapses if it intends to make noise at the CIAA Tournament.

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