The scouting report on Seattle University should be as simple as it is obvious after its 76-60 loss to Cal Poly tonight.
"We saw it in a lot of film - everything they wanted to do is to penetrate," said junior center Will Donahue, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. "So we had to keep it to a minimum and we knew that was going to be our strength if we could keep them out of the paint."
The fact is that the combination of film and statistics don't lie; the Redhawks are clearly at their best when getting penetration while shooting 28.1 percent from 3-point range and 35.4 percent overall, neither of which is outstanding. So the Mustangs sat in a 2-3 zone the entire game to protect the basket with the 6-foot-8 Donahue sitting in the paint and dared the Redhawks to beat them from a place of weakness.
Unfortunately, Seattle never solved the zone strategy Cal Poly threw at them, shooting 22.7 percent from 3-point range on the night. When they attempted to move the ball and find gaps in the zone for scoring opportunities, it resulted in turnovers.
"We just gotta continue to get better," said Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar. "We played better defensively, obviously, so we can take a positive away from that. But we gotta get better offensively. I thought we were a little stagnant at times. Then we weren't stagnant - missed a couple of bunnies. Then we were stagnant again. We really never had a flow offensively. And obviously we can't have those type of lulls and score like we need to score. Obviously, 24 turnovers in a game where they played 2-3 zone the whole time, that doesn't work either."
While the Redhawks continued to struggle to get anything going, Cal Poly shot exceptionally well and that was ultimately the difference in the game.
Key statistic: shooting percentage
Although neither team shot particularly well in the first half, the Mustangs shot 53.8 percent in the second half and that pretty much tilted the scales in the game.
A large part of that was that while the Redhawks kept shooting 3-pointers to no avail, the Mustangs cut down on their 3-point attempts and chose their spots a bit better; they shot three 3-pointers (and made two) in the second half after shooting nine in the first half.
The reason they cut down on the 3-point shots was a shift in strategy; they spent more time looking to the post for center Will Donahue.
"He turned it on, but honestly, I thought we did a pretty good job on him," said Dollar when asked about Donahue. "We fought and scratched. He got us a little bit down the stretch, did a good job. He got some dump-ins later on down the stretch where he ended up scoring."
Key player: Will Donahue
After being held to two points on 1-of-2 shooting in the first half, the Mustangs made adjustments in the second half that allowed Donahue to flourish: after tapping in a missed shot with 15:23 left in the half, the Mustangs started to look for him a bit more in the post and the Redhawks simply didn't have an answer for the gritty 6-foot-8 big man on the block.
"First half basically, we saw them come at us more so I was setting a lot of high picks and we were going straight to the bucket, which was working for us real well," said Donahue. "Then they started slowing down on the defense and that's when we started to run our plays and just pound it down low."
Using a combination of quick footwork and strong instincts around the basket, Donahue responded to the team's adjustments and shot 5 of 5 in the second half. When he wasn't finding ways to put the ball in from the five foot range, he drew fouls and got to the free throw line to score from there and shot 4 of 7 from the free throw line in the second half.
Whereas the Mustangs relied heavily on scoring points off turnovers in the first half - they had 16 points off the Redhawks' 13 turnovers - they became much more efficient by involving Donahue in the offense more in the second half. However, the one consistent factor in the game was the play of 6-foot-5 forward David Hanson who Seattle U never found an answer for.
"Hanson's come along a lot lately," said Donahue. "He's getting real hot. It's real nice - it's opening things up for me down low especially and all the shooters on the opposite side because they're collapsing on me."
Mustangs statistical MVP: David Hanson
Hanson finished with a team-high 22 points and five steals. And the fact that he played the full 40 minutes further accentuates his value to the team.
But one of Hanson's biggest plays, came with the Mustangs hanging onto a narrow 46-45 margin with 7:55 left in the game. His three pointer from the wing on a pass from Shawn Lewis gave Cal Poly some breathing room and triggered a 10 to 1 run that was ultimately insurmountable for the Redhawks. Dollar called a timeout immediately after that play, but it ultimately wasn't enough to contain the Mustangs.
However, the very fact that the Redhawks closed the gap and maintained within reach of their first win late into the second half does highlight what might be a bright spot in this game.
"[Coming back was] kinda just plugging away and kinda just scrapping and hanging in there," said Dollar. "Again, I don't think it was pretty offensively all game. But I think we kinda just kept plugging away."
As much as they did as a team to stay in the game, things might have been considerably worse without the performance of freshman Sterling Carter.
Redhawks statistical MVP: Sterling Carter
Carter, a Franklin High School alum, finished with a game-high 24 points but most importantly was the Redhawks' only viable 3-point threat, hitting 4 of 9 on the night including the lone made 3-point attempt in the second half. His ability to get to the free throw line when nothing else was falling for the team was also critical.
But perhaps the team's reliance on Carter when the team struggled to get anything else going says more about this team than the strength of his performance in isolation: they're still young and learning how to win.
"We are making progress which is good," said Dollar. "We always like to, I guess in some ways, take the mental heat off, especially for the incoming guys by getting a win. But the bottom line is we got to judge it on what it is and making progress - we just got to get better."
After the game Dollar said he hadn't yet even thought about the team's upcoming meeting with Oregon State in KeyArena at 7:10 p.m., their first Pac-10 challenge of a rigorous non-conference schedule.
But Oregon State might already have the blueprint to beating the Redhawks, which makes it difficult to imagine a repeat of last year's blowout in Corvalis.
"You prefer to be able to work on this stuff while getting a win, but that's not where we're at," said Dollar. "So you just gotta keep working at it."