Titans seek to rebound from rough start
By MICHAEL MARTINEZ
Special to FOXSportsDetroit.com
It’s been a strange year at Detroit Mercy.
The Titans were heralded this offseason as heirs to Butler’s conference throne and were picked to finish among the Horizon League’s best.
Over halfway through the regular season, Detroit sits among the worst.
It would be easy to pronounce the Titans’ NCAA Tournament hopes dead and dismiss their 3-5 conference record as another disappointment for a program that hasn’t smelled postseason success in a decade.
But coach Ray McCallum is far from giving up.
“I’m not focused on the record right now,” he said. “I think we can beat anyone in the conference, and that’s my message to my guys.”
McCallum said his team has played well and is trying to focus on the positives, like how close the Titans have been in most games.
Of Detroit’s five conference losses, four have come by two possessions or less. UDM’s most recent loss — a 10-point setback last week in Milwaukee — was the only league game decided before the final minutes.
“We’ve had a chance to win games over the last month,” McCallum said. “We’re playing good basketball. We’ve been right there. You’re talking about a possession or two and that’s what we’re looking at.”
Still, Detroit hasn’t been able to win those close games, McCallum said, because of its defense and 3-point shooting.
The Titans are in last place in the Horizon League in scoring defense, allowing 69.8 points per game. They also sit last in 3-point percentage, making just 28.5 percent of their shots.
McCallum said the former might be the most disappointing, since defense has been the cornerstone of his plans since taking over in 2008.
“That’s one of the things we really tried to build our program on,” McCallum said. “We have to get better.”
There’s no doubt that Detroit’s played undersized this season, with center Eli Holman missing the first 10 games and Nick Minnerath going down early to injury.
McCallum said that’s not an excuse, though.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” he said. “It’s not about how big you are. It’s about how big you play.”
The defensive problem, he said, stems from Detroit’s other weakness — shooting from beyond the arc.
“When we’re not making threes and our opponent is, that’s been the separation,” he said. “When we make threes our defense is better. With this group it seems like (defensive struggles are) related to shooting.”
McCallum said his team has worked hard in practice to get up extra shots and is capable of “making between five and 12” triples a game.
Their next chance to show that comes Saturday against Wright State.
The Raiders rank last in the Horizon League in field goal percentage and second to last in points per game.
That creates an opportunity for Detroit’s defense to continue to grow, McCallum said. The added energy of the Homecoming crowd should help, he said, as it did in big home games against St. John’s and Butler that resulted in wins.
“We’ve had about a week off,” he said. “I hope we’re hungry to play again, particularly after a loss. With our alumni and Homecoming, it’s a special time.”