The season ended as predictably and as appropriately as it could have ended for Mike Balado and the Red Wolves – with a sloppy turnover, coming out of a time out. It was the last of sixteen turnovers committed by Arkansas State in the second round of the Sun Belt Tournament against Georgia State. That final TO of 403 committed on the season. Once again, the Red Wolves were undone by its carelessness with the ball.
“It’s hard to play transition defense when you have a lot of…live-ball turnovers,” said Coach Balado after the 65-62 loss to the Panthers.
Yeah, we gotta agree with that. Pitiful three-point shooting doesn’t help much either. But according to the natural laws of time and space, this season is a fixture of the past – a permanent addition to the ether. Only the ghosts of missed opportunities remain. For many, those apparitions have enough telekinetic energy to push people out of doors.
What do we make of this season, fans of the Red Wolves. On paper, the program finished 18-11, statistically Balado’s best season. The season has produced for Arkansas State the conference’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. It saw the return of a favored son of Jonesboro, Desi Sills, and an encore performance from hometown legend Marquis Eaton. We were treated to a team that played hard with a positive synergy, and by players that represented Arkansas State with honor and dignity.
We also saw yet another collapse at the end of the season, with the Red Wolves sinking from atop the SBC standings to a middling sixth. We witnessed a pair leads blown late to conference foes, including one at home to ULM. We finished 2-5 against teams that finished ahead of us. We endured another second-round early exit from the Sun Belt Tournament. Oh yeah, also those 403 turnovers.
COVID Freshman Norchad Omier gives Red Wolves fans much to celebrate; the man is simply a joy to watch. But the roster’s lack of size and consistent outside shooting made it difficult for a talent even as dominating as Omier to lift the team from mediocrity. Still, the program has made a step forward. Eighteen and eleven isn’t a poor record. If Omier resists the offers he’s certain to receive, he will only improve. Incoming recruits Izaiyah Nelson and Terrance Ford arrive with some promise. We get another year of Desi Sills, and another year of Antwon Jackson working on his dribble. Can this modestly measured success be built upon?
The Chorus yodeling for change is loud, and we hear it. It would alleviate a heavy weight of frustration to dismantle and rebuild. But there are also a great number of pieces here that almost fit. The Grail is so close, it seems, that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the atoms of our fingertips from the atoms of the Cup. Do we blow this up now? Now?
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Wagner