LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- An ACC school shouldn't lose to an Ivy league school.
Not in basketball.
Even with relatively low expectations from outsiders and a new coach still trying to install his system, it shouldn't happen. Especially not when the Ivy League school in question is picked to finish in the bottom half of the Ivy League. Especially not when the Ivy League school in question enters with an 0-2 record (featuring an opening loss to Quinnipiac) and is less than a week away from losing by 26 to a Big Ten school.
|ACC-Big Ten Challenge|
And yet it happened two Thursdays ago.
Donahue spent those 40 minutes fighting the same things most men fight when they take over a program they were hired to fix. On one hand you're still in the teaching phase, and the best way to teach is to hold players accountable. Take a bad shot, sit. Relax on defense, sit. So on and so forth. But on the other hand you're just trying to win a basketball game by any means necessary, and with that in mind it's natural to let things go because it's usually easier to win with your best players on the court.
In the moment, you just want to get through it. So you play your players, pray that talent prevails and plan to teach after the fact while forgetting that teaching after the fact is less effective.
Donahue found himself faced with this dilemma against Yale.
What to do?
Teach or try to get through it?
Sit stars or ride their undisciplined ways?
|Steve Donahue and the Eagles will take on Indiana on Wednesday. (Getty Images)|
He regretted it almost immediately.
"They had been doing a lot of good things in practice, but they still had this mentality when they got on the floor to play the game a certain way that I can't live with," Donahue told me over the weekend. "They were doing things [against Yale] that I shouldn't have allowed, but I allowed it. I didn't take people out and say, 'That's not acceptable.' I was mad at myself after the game. I let it happen."
And then he swore he'd never let it happen again.
Which brings me to this past weekend's Old Spice Classic.
The Eagles went to Disney World as the team that had just lost to a middle-of-the-pack Ivy League member and left with victories over Big 12 and Pac-10 schools.
They opened the event with a 67-65 win over a Texas A&M team that'll be in the NCAA tournament and closed with a 68-46 victory over a California team that owns wins over New Mexico and Temple. In between, there was a 66-55 loss to Wisconsin, but going 2-1 against three power-league schools was still a nice achievement.
It offered hope for this team with three experienced double-digit scorers. But more than anything, it provided something tangible for Donahue to show his players who might have questioned whether the man who took Cornell to the past three NCAA tournaments could lead them down a similar path of success.
Do it your way, Donahue can now tell them, and we'll lose to Yale.
Do it my way, he can now tell them, and we'll beat quality opponents.
In fact, it already has registered.
"We've realized it takes everybody to win," said Boston College senior Joe Trapani, who was one of six Eagles to score between seven and 12 points in the 22-point win over California. That was a statistic Donahue really liked, by the way. It's something he'll be stressing as a key to success heading into Wednesday night's game against Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
"[Leading scorer] Reggie [Jackson] putting his head down and dribbling the ball is not what we want, and he knows that," Trapani said. "Me taking contested shots or putting my head down and making plays for myself, that's usually not in the best interest of our team, and we need to be mindful of that and get it completely out of our system because … [Donahue] is not going to accept it anymore, and I don't think we're going to accept it anymore, either.
"That Yale game was a wakeup call," Trapani added. "I think it was the best thing for us."