As the lights dim in the Elam Center on another UT Martin loss, a visibly upset Jason James spoke with a few members of the assembled media. His message wasn’t one of resignation, or looking for the good things from another losing effort. Clearly frustrated, James make it clear how he felt about his team’s performance.
He didn’t like it. At all.
“Our leaders today just had no desire to play,” James said. “I don’t know if it’s the weather, I don’t know if it’s New Years Eve. I wish I did. It’s amazing to me how 18-22 year-old kids are given the opportunity to play basketball and don’t want to. Maybe we don’t have the right players here, maybe we do, I don’t know.”
James has plenty of reasons to be frustrated. The loss drops the Skyhawks is their six straight, dropping UT Martin to 3-11 on the year. Over the past two seasons, James’ squad is just 7-38, and haven’t won a regular season OVC game since February of 2011.
Coming off a great effort and near upset of SEMO, UT Martin tonight reverted to what we had seen so much of in the past. 21 turnovers, 24 fouls, and just 7 assists. After a solid defensive first half, allowing just 22 points, the Skyhawks allowed 23 in under seven and a half minutes to open the second half, falling behind by 15 points before trying to claw their way back into it.
“We just didn’t have a desire to play today,” James said.
For the first few question of the post game press conference, James tried to look to the positives. “Just yesterday, the day before we were tons better,” James said. “But that’s the nature of young men.”
But it was clear he was much more frustrated, standing in front of us with his shoulders slumped, and no confidence once-so-ever in his voice. In my year and a half of talking with James after games, I had never seem him seem so resigned, so tired.
So I asked him about it, asking if he felt tired. He did, but not the kind of tired I was thinking of.
“Yeah, I’m tired of begging them to play,” James responded, his voiced raised. “I’m tired of having the same conversations in the locker room after the game. To show up here at home and play like we did? Sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Another reporter followed by asking if there was any player that did step up today. A chance to talk about something positive, right?
Nope. The frustration had already taken over.
“I think everyone’s got to step up their effort to play. I think our guys are a little “too cool” to put forth the effort for whatever reason at home. And we’ve got one senior, and he had no interest in playing today.”
In all, UT Martin’s effort appeared to be much greater than Tennessee Tech’s just two days before. The Skyhawks held Jacksonville State to 42% shooting, 5-18 from behind the arc, markedly better than the Golden Eagles. In the first half, UT Martin forced 11 Gamecocks turnovers, including Myles Taylor drawing three charges.
Almost none of that energy showed up early in the second half. Jacksonville State opened up the half with a 23-11 advantage, and by the second media timeout the game had been all but decided.
“I think there’s a direct correlation between when we play with energy and when we’re successful,” James told us.
The road doesn’t get any easier, as UT Martin hosts West Division favorite Murray State Thursday. As for what’s next?
“We’ll go back and watch the tape and we’ll continue to get better.”