That was my question after USI did an about-face against Cedarville on Saturday and suddenly discovered how to stop a team that sank six 3-pointers in the first half and was shooting over 45 percent from 3-point land over its last eight games. But I never really got a definitive answer. Maybe, like the players kept saying, it was just a matter of playing harder and smarter. Still, the Eagles had been unable to guard the arc in their previous three games, so why the change after sitting in the locker room?
My guess is that Rodney Watson and his assistant coaches saw something in the first half that they could take advantage of — some way that Cedarville was repeatedly running its offensive rotation to get its shooters open. Then they instructed their players how to gum up the works. I mean, for the first several minutes of the second half Cedarville didn’t get any open looks from behind the arc that I could see. Later, when they did get open, their shots clanged off the rim. They had completely lost their confidence.
Of course, I could be quite wrong. Nevertheless, this game now goes down as one of the most amazing defensive turnarounds I’ve ever witnessed in my 32 years of covering hoops.
UPDATE: Going back over my notes I discovered that some of Watson’s comments do, sort of, address the issue. He started out by blaming himself for USI’s inability to stop the 3-pointer over the past three years, then went into a baseball description of what the Eagles did to shut down Cedarville:
“It’s like a pitcher who throws a fastball and no curve ball. So they were expecting a fastball and we had to come up with a curve and a changeup.”
Judging from that, I guess USI did do something a bit different defensively in the second half.
FURTHER UPDATE: Watson also mentioned that his team played a zone for a while in the second half. That is a major departure from his man-to-man philosophy. Except that the zone USI played Saturday night in the second half looked an awful lot like a man because it was so aggressive. In fact, I didn’t know it was a zone until he told me. But then, I’m sometimes pretty bad at recognizing defenses.