BOCA RATON — To win in baseball, you have to see the ball to hit the ball. To win in basketball, you have to avoid getting into foul trouble and letting your opponent take free shots.
As the Florida Atlantic Owls sit at 4-8 on the season, their tendency to continuously let opponents get to the free throw line is quickly becoming a key difference between wins and losses.
Through 12 games, FAU is currently averaging 19 personal fouls per game. Saturday’s Conference-USA opener against Western Kentucky saw Marcus Neely, Jailyn Ingram, Ronald Delph, Adonis Filer, and William Pfister combine for 13 of the team’s 20 total fouls. Delph led the way with four personal fouls on the afternoon.
While the Hilltoppers only made 12 of their 22 free throws, even allowing them to have that many shots at the line is weighing heavily on coach Michael Curry’s mind – and resulting in him making unfortunate adjustments to the game plan.
“This was a night where we told them we need Ronald [Delph] and Will [Pfister] together,” Curry said. “One of the reasons we don’t start Will with Ronald is exactly what happened tonight: foul trouble. Then, we don’t have bigs on the court.”
One of Conference USA’s most dominating big men, Delph is seventh in the conference with 97 total rebounds and averages 8.1 a night. However, his tendency to get into foul trouble has turned into a major achilles heel for the Owls in the paint; Delph, who leads the Owls with 3.3 fouls per game, is currently 12th in Conference-USA with 39 fouls on the season.
Pfister is 18th in the conference with 35 personal fouls despite averaging 15.9 minutes per game as opposed to Delph’s 25.5.
“One of the things being able to play with two bigs on the court and our two best bigs, Ronald and Will, the last four games Ronald has stayed in foul trouble so we can’t have them on the court together,” Curry explained.
Since having six or more rebounds in three of his first five games to start the year, Pfister has yet to record more than four in one outing.
With Marshall and Florida International ahead on the schedule this week, Curry also touched on how the foul trouble leads to issues with rebounding.
“We have to find a way to stay out of foul trouble and hopefully that will help us on the boards,” Curry said. “You can’t win when [point guard] Nick Rutherford is your leading rebounder with seven defensive rebounds, eight rebounds total.”
• Frank Booker has hit the bench. In Saturday’s loss to Western Kentucky, the Oklahoma transfer played a season-low two minutes, which was the first time since a March 2015 loss to Oklahoma State – when Booker was still with the Sooners – that the guard was on the court for less than ten minutes. After back surgery last year and a quick start to this year that included 10 points per game on .388 percent shooting from the field in his first five games, Booker seems to already have fallen out of favor.
• Allowing Western Kentucky to attempt 22 free throws helped the Hilltoppers play to their own tempo on Saturday, something Curry also discussd. “You understand that they were playing a game at the pace they want to play to – they average about 67 points per game, so they were right at their pace,” Curry said. “We have to do some things to create plays, but they were very disciplined.” Look for Curry and the other coaches to put a heavy emphasis on discipline – not only when it comes to fouls, but as a whole – in the coming weeks.
• One of the nation’s better teams when it comes to turnovers, holding onto the ball was something the Owls did right on Saturday. Limiting themselves to eight turnovers against Pancake Thomas and a physical Western Kentucky team, ball control has to be something that Curry can be somewhat pleased about.
Conference Counterparts: In addition to the Hilltoppers, Old Dominion, Charlotte, and Marshall all won their Conference-USA openers. Rice, who had been the best team overall with a 10-3 record, lost to Old Dominion on Saturday.
Working Women: The Lady Owls lost their first two games of Conference-USA play to Western Kentucky and Marshall, but will try to rebound on Saturday when they travel to FIU. Raven Doyle currently ranks 10th in the conference with 6.9 rebounds per game.
Game of the Week: It may not be the Shula Bowl, but things are always interesting when Florida Atlantic and Florida International square up. Saturday’s matchup between the Owls and Golden Panthers will not only be the final game of this home stand, but the last game before the spring semester starts.