Can a player be truly dominant in a loss?
It’s a question I’ve heard asked many times, in many ways over my years of first following and now covering college ball. And it’s a question that I’m once again hearing on the heels of Stony Brook’s 71-57 loss to Vermont, a game in which Seawolves center Jameel Warney scored 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, to go with 10 rebounds, two blocks an assist and a steal in 35 minutes of action.
I’ve heard many basketball purists say no, that by very definition a dominant performance would ensure a victory. Now I can’t say whether Warney’s performance on Saturday afternoon was dominant, or merely great. The Catamounts executed a game plan that boiled down to letting Warney get his, forgoing the standard swarming double-teams thrown at the 260-pound bruiser, leaving the New Jersey native in single coverage, while focusing on stopping the entire rest of the Seawolves roster – a game plan that paid big dividends.
But I can say, with the utmost confidence, that a player can completely dominate a game in a losing effort. And I can say it without a shadow of a doubt for one simple reason: I was sitting in the Agganis Arena on Feb. 12, 2005, when Vermont legend Taylor Coppenrath came to town and completely dismantled host Boston University.
I had never, ever seen a spectacle like what I saw on that day before, and I have yet to see one like it since.
Boston University found a way to withstand Coppenrath’s end-of-days level storm on the court, hanging on to a 61-55 win, but the story of the night was the West Barnet, Vermont, native.
Coppenrath’s final stat line — 37 of Vermont’s 55 points, 13-of-24 from the floor, 10-of-10 from the line, to go with 13 rebounds and a block for good measure – was jaw-dropping. Yet it didn’t begin to tell the story. Coppenrath scored 27 points in the first half, scoring 25 straight Vermont points during one stretch in the game that overlapped both halves.
That still isn’t the craziest part of the game.
Coppenrath scored 37 points, including 25 straight, while Boston University head coach Dennis Wolff, one of if not the greatest defensive minds in league history, employed a triangle-2 defense. The catch: The “2” – First Team All-Conference selection Rashad Bell, a super-athletic power forward with tremendous skill, and a rotating cast that included 6’9” athlete and future First Teamer Kevin Garner, extremely athletic future overseas pro Etienne Brower, and insanely long future NBAer Tony Gaffney – were BOTH covering Coppenrath. The double coverage extended to well beyond when Coppenrath had the ball, as the Terriers’ big men blanketed him from the minute he stepped across half court for virtually the entire final 30 minutes of the game.
Despite Coppenrath’s fellow 2,000 point scorer T.J. Sorrentine handling the rock for the Catamounts, Wolff’s strategy against Vermont was the complete opposite of Becker’s strategy against Warney and the Seawolves 10 years later: Stop Taylor Coppenrath at all costs; Do not let Vermont’s bigman beat you singlehandedly, because he will.
Wolff’s strategy, of course, was a sound tactical move: One season earlier, after missing nearly a month with a broken left wrist, Coppenrath returned to the floor, cold, for the 2004 America Championship game against Maine. Maine head coach Dr. John Giannini decided to start the game with Coppenrath in single coverage.
What proceeded was the greatest one-man butt-whooping in conference tournament history, with Coppenrath scoring 28 first half points en route to a championship game record 43.
Boston University was able to hang on for the win when the Terriers were able to finally deny Coppenrath the ball in the post, and Vermont was unable to capitalize on the 4-on-3 advantage they had across the rest of the court. But despite the loss, the 6’9” inch 250-pounder was devastatingly dominant none the less.