CHAMPAIGN, Ill.—The Gateway Steam dropped their third straight on Thursday night when another poor first quarter paved the way to a 124-96 loss to the Champaign Swarm. For the second game in a row, a team jumped on the Steam early and cruised to a victory.
It was an ugly game for the Steam. They racked up a total of 27 turnovers, 14 coming from Swarm steals. The Swarm only turned the ball over a total of 14 times and outrebounded the Steam 52-37.
The Swarm were playing in their second game of the season after dispatching the St. Louis Sharks 113-100 last weekend. From the opening tip, it appeared Champaign was ready to do the same to the other team from St. Louis. The Swarm jumped out to a 6-0 lead and racked up three steals in the first two minutes alone. The Steam looked totally ill-prepared to handle the full-court pressure Champaign was applying.
By the end of the first quarter, the Swarm had racked up a 34-19 lead and 8 of their 10 first half steals. Swarm guard Matt Neaville scored 8 of his 13 points in the first period and was 2-2 from 3-point range.
In the second quarter, the Steam made a run early to cut the lead to 10 at 40-30, but that would be as close as they got the rest of the way. The Swarm immediately scored to push it back to 12. The Steam travelled on the ensuing possession, and the rout was on. Even with that blip of hope Gateway somehow shot worse than they did in the first, going 4-14 from the field.
At the break, the Swarm held a 63-36 lead on the scoreboard and a 5-17 advantage in the turnover battle. The final shooting percentages were 48% to 46% in favor of the Swarm, but those are deceiving because the advantage at halftime with the game all but decided was 53% to 34%.
For the rest of the game the margin hovered around 30 getting as high as 35, before it settled at the final 28-point differential.
Champaign was led by Rashard McGill, who finished the game with 20 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. Mark St. Fort posted a double-double (17pts, 10 reb) and Robert Broughton fell a rebound short of one of his own (19 pts 9 reb). All three hit double digit points before halftime. Silas Mills led the Swarm on the glass with 12 rebounds.
The brightest spot for the Steam was Chris Babbitt who filled up the stat sheet in a loss. He tied for a game-high with 20 points and added 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and 1 assist. A guard, Brandon McGill, tied for the team lead in rebounds with 7 and also had 17 points. The current 3-point league leader Jake Anderson was cold from distance but still made a large contribution as he led the team in assists with 7 and scored 14 of his own.
The Gateway Steam (1-4) play their next game Jan. 24 at home against fellow St. Louisans the St. Louis RiverSharks, and they can’t be happier. The road was unkind to the Steam. They dropped all three on their mini road trip, including the last two by a combined 67 points after losing the first by 1 on a buzzer beater.
The culprit appears to be the first half differentials. In the first halves of the last two contests the Steam were outscored by a combined 62. In the first quarter of those games alone they were outscored 64-26. There isn’t a perfect fix to this problem other than “shoot better,” but running the offense, getting high percentage shots, and not turning the ball over will certainly help.
The biggest problem going forward that there isn’t really a fix for currently on the roster is the size disadvantage. It’s possible to overcome having your tallest player be 6-foot-7, (the Swarm are similarly sized although they have more 6-7 guys) but it takes doing everything else better. On the season they are being outshot 49.6% to 54.9%. The size hurts both of those numbers. On the offensive end, they don’t have a guy who can post up on the block and go to work in the paint. On the defensive end, they don’t have a rim protector and are susceptible to that “big guy posted on the block.”
It will be interesting to see how rookie head coach Durrell Robinson deals with this issue going forward and what changes he makes in the week ahead of their next game to stop the losing streak at 3.
(Photo Credit: Mick Lite)
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