POCATELLO - As the Idaho State men's basketball team was in the midst of absorbing another bad loss, this one a 24-point setback to Wyoming, a member of the media sitting on press row at Holt Arena noted the newspaper headline should be: "New coach, same result."
The Bengals (2-9) head into Big Sky Conference play searching for answers, and they simply may not be coming. New interim head coach Deane Martin was frank when assessing his team's potential with con-ference play on the horizon.
"This isn't the NBA, it's not like we can go out and make trades," he said.
Martin was named the interim coach on December 19 when Joe O'Brien resigned. He played for O'Brien and coached in professional leagues in Europe, so he brings experience to the position, but what does he have to work with?
Start with guard Melvin Morgan, averaging almost 12 points a game, and his backcourt mate Kenny McGowen, who chips in 10 a game. Add ‘do everything' swingman Chase Grabau, who averages 10 points and brings whatever the team needs to do on a particular night - score, rebound, pass the ball, take charges and play hard regardless of the score. Throw in smooth frontcourt player Abner Moreira and his seven and a half rebounds per game. It's a good start, but then what?
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The fact is the Bengals lack any real depth to give Martin alternatives. He said as much when he was asked about making personnel changes.
"The question you have to ask is, are we replacing them with guys who are better?" Martin said "The re-ality is the only way we're going to solve our problems is to get in the gym and work. We have to work together. We can't have guys just go off and do what they want to do. We don't have those kinds of players who can take over a game."
The other issue with Idaho State has been a tendency to lose concentration for periods of time, which has cost the Bengals badly. They lost two overtime games to Loyola Marymount because they started to make mistakes, turn the ball over in crucial periods, force shots and lose leads. They lost to a bad Utah team, losing a nine point lead in the second half for the same reasons.
A frustrated McGowen addressed that phase of the game after Thursday's loss to Wyoming.
"We were playing good for a long stretch then for some reason we just backed off and they made us pay," he said. "We need to do a better job of being mentally focused."
Idaho State trailed Wyoming by only four points late in the first half. Then within 30 seconds, the Cow-boys hit a 3-point shot, the Bengals forced up a quick shot that missed, and Wyoming hit another 3-pointer to go into the break up 10 and fully in control. That's happened time and time again this season.
Martin is quieter than O'Brien, whose style wore thin with players after a period of time, but that doesn't mean that he will expect anything less than the best effort his squad can give him.
"I've got to hold players accountable and they have to hold themselves accountable as well. The last thing you want to do is let them lay down," he said.
With preseason favorite Weber State opening up conference play on Dec.29 in Ogden, and a game at last year's champ Northern Colorado two days later, unless something changes in a hurry the conference part of the schedule could turn out to be the same as the nonconference one: a difficult, frustrating series of losses and a countdown to the merciful end of the season.