Toppmeyer: Hawks thrive in desperation mode

Posted: Feb. 19, 2013 10:59 pm Updated: Apr. 2, 2013 11:13 pm

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

Desperate basketball teams often can be the most dangerous.

Two weeks ago, the Quincy University men's basketball team was a desperate team. The Hawks were 8-11 overall and 3-8 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. They had lost eight of their last 10 games, including four of their last five at home.

QU was in serious danger of missing the 12-team GLVC Tournament and was on pace to finish with the fewest wins in coach Marty Bell's 10-year tenure.

Simply put, the Hawks had reached the point of desperation. And that was the best thing that could have happened to them.

QU has won three of its last four games, and the Hawks (11-12, 6-9) enter this week in good position to make the conference tournament. With one more QU win or one more loss by Saint Joseph's and Rockhurst, the Hawks will clinch their spot in the tournament field.

Yet, the Hawks must be careful not to let up or lose hold of that desperate feeling they've played with the last two weeks.

"We have to remain focused and bring it every day," QU junior guard Chris Babbitt said after the Hawks beat Missouri S&T 71-66 on Saturday at Pepsi Arena.

There's a difference between panicking on the basketball court and playing with desperation. A team that panics generally plays without discipline, takes shots out of rhythm and makes poor decisions.

Desperate teams turn up the intensity. QU has done that on the defensive end especially.

Two weeks ago, the Hawks limited William Jewell and Rockhurst to a combined 34.9 percent shooting clip from the field and picked up back-to-back road wins. Last week, although Drury and S&T found some shooting success against the Hawks, QU forced a combined 42 turnovers in those games.

Really, in the past two weeks, QU has been solid for all but about 30 minutes. The Hawks were outscored by 21 points in the second half of Thursday's 64-44 loss to Drury, and S&T rallied in the final 10 minutes of QU's win Saturday.

Quincy also survived Saturday's game without Tyler Thompson -- the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder who sat out with a sprained ankle -- by getting its most balanced offensive production in a month.

Yet, QU's performance from the last two weeks must be taken with a grain of salt. Drury was the only opponent that is currently above .500 in league play. Rockhurst and S&T have a combined five GLVC wins between them.

This week will be a better indicator of how much the Hawks have truly progressed. They host Missouri-St. Louis (15-8, 8-7) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and will play at Maryville (21-7, 10-5) at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

Those teams beat QU by a combined 23 points earlier this season, setting off this feeling of desperation for the Hawks.

Quincy's situation has changed since then. Although QU isn't quite playing for its conference tournament life anymore, its final three regular-season games still carry a lot of value.

"We have to keep getting Ws to improve our position in the conference tournament," QU freshman center Dalton Hoover said Saturday after scoring a career-high 21 points against S&T.

If the GLVC Tournament started today, QU would be seeded No. 11.

Bell said after Saturday's victory that his ideal scenario is for QU to win its final three games and get a lot of help elsewhere, allowing the Hawks to host an opening-round game. Hosting a game would require QU to be seeded eighth or better.

Bell called that his "pipe dream," and truthfully, that's what it is.

Even if QU beats UMSL and Maryville and ends the regular season next week by winning at Illinois-Springfield, it probably would be seeded no higher than No. 9. Five GLVC teams already have 10 or more league wins, and three more sit with nine.

Nonetheless, QU has plenty to play for. With a strong finish, the Hawks could avoid the second losing season in Bell's tenure. They could roll into the GLVC Tournament with some momentum.

"You don't want to back into the tournament," Bell said. "I think we have to try to win each (remaining game)."

Although their GLVC Tournament hopes don't really hang in the balance anymore, the Hawks should practice and play like they do, because the past two weeks have shown us that the Hawks are at their best when they're desperate.


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