By Grant Miller
The good news is the Illinois Tech men’s basketball team doubled its win total from last season.
The bad news? The Scarlet Hawks lost their final home game Saturday and currently hold a 4-20 record with just one match-up left. But coach Todd Kelly remains optimistic.
“Last year we just had an assembly of guys,” Kelly said. “This year we had a college team. Next year, we need to be a program.”
Illinois Tech lost to University of California Santa Cruz on Saturday 74-64 in front of what coach Kelly estimated was about 175 people. Kelly doubted that a larger crowd, cheerleaders or a mascot would have helped much.
“It would be great for our program,” Kelly said. “But additional fans wouldn’t help us win games.”
Kelly brought in eight freshmen and made all of them, including star point guard Anthony Mosley, run sprints if they arrived late to practice or missed layups. The Scarlet Hawks were forced to meet his standards,and Kelly said they stepped their game up.
Kelly has been more than just a disciplinarian. He said he also sat down with Mosley for individual film sessions and has seen results on the court.
“Mosley has really improved in terms of turnovers and raising his field goal percentage,” Kelly said. “He has better shot selection.”
Mosley shot 50 percent from the field against Santa Cruz despite tight defense from guards Jared and Matthew Ponce.
Mosley attributed his scoring to splitting Santa Cruz’s screen defense and getting “a few easy breaks,” but Kelly said he has become a smarter player.
“He’s learning the college speed and pace,” Kelly said. “I think he was playing at high school pace before.”
Kelly said it was difficult to gauge his team’s improvement on Saturday with leading scorer Samuel Rarick, starting forward Parker Joncus and bench guard Quentin Forberg out with injuries, and this game did not represent Mosley’s improved ball control because he had six turnovers.
Kelly also said the team in general gave up the ball too often and allowed too many points in the paint. As a result, Santa Cruz scored 26 points from Tech’s 21 turnovers and 30 points down low.
“You can’t win ball games turning it over that much,” Kelly said.
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Assistant coach Ebenezer Noonoo works mostly with the Scarlet Hawks big men and introduced the team to his towel drill, an exercise that makes his players box out with their hands grabbing both ends of a towel draped over their necks. He said as a coach, he is never satisfied, but their front court has made strides, especially center Ryan Barnes.
“Ryan was our catalyst in the post,” Noonoo said. “He and Jake worked their butts off.”
Barnes more than doubled his scoring average with eight points, and Jake Digiorgio led the game with 17 rebounds, allowing Tech to win the rebounding battle against Santa Cruz.
But Noonoo said the Scarlet Hawks need to work on consistency and make more “momentum buckets.”
“We started off good and had good intensity, but it died down,” Noonoo said. “We have the right pieces. We just have to make the right plays.”
Mosley, who led all scorers with 21 points, said Tech made the wrong plays and got outworked.
But Mosley said the Scarlet Hawks showed better decision-making at this point in the season, and Digiorgio said Tech has matured as a team overall.
“We have higher expectations for each other,” Digiorgio said. “We don’t play like freshmen anymore.”