This close loss was disappointing in a number of ways, mainly because the Claws led for much of the night. We went into the half with a four-point lead for the Claws, helped by a balanced offense that saw major contributions from all of the starters: each contributed 7-9 points. That lead would only grow to fourteen points in the third quarter. At that point it looked like the Claws were heading towards putting their conference rivals away and making a definitive statement.
Even heading into the fourth quarter Maine retained a solid seven-point lead, and new Celtic/Red Claw Marcus Landry quickly made that ten. Landry did not start and only played 13 minutes last night, so it’s hard to analyze his performance, but in that time he did manage to knock in eight points, mostly in the second half. Unfortunately, he also had four offensive fouls in that short time and missed two 3′s and a free throw. So, just like the performance of the team overall tonight, a mixed bag.
For the Red Claws the wheels started to come off the bus with five minutes left in the fourth. Holding on to a nine-point lead, the Claws let the SkyForce go on 9-0 run over the course of the next minute, allowing them back in the game, essentially. That was the definitive turning point of the game, as the two teams essentially traded baskets for the rest of the night, right up to the end. Another key moment was when the Claws, trailing by one point, had the ball with 0:29 left, and took their shot with 0:19 left in the game instead of letting the shot clock dwindle a bit further. While they made the shot and grabbed the lead back, it was with way too much time left in the game. There should have been time for maybe one more play, not for both teams to score a combined nine more points.
Maine did have a good performance, showing they could readily compete with other playoff teams; had they not made a few mistakes in the final moments, they still would have won that game. Mo Ager had a great game last night, with 23 points and 8 rebounds, as did Paul Davis, with a 12-point 15-rebound double-double. Landry had his moments, and will no doubt improve as he learns the plays and adjusts to the team, while new Red Claw Kurt Looby showed why they acquired him, with a performance that stepped the whole team’s defense up a notch. Still, if Maine wants to effectively compete against Iowa next week and make a serious run in the playoffs, they’ll have to step it up a notch in these big games.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Mo Ager
NEXT THREE: Friday, March 12, 7:30PM vs. Iowa…Sunday, March 14, 5:00PM vs. Iowa…Tuesday, March 16, 7:00PM @ Fort Wayne Mad Ants.