Michael Hamlett could take no more. The head coach of the American Studies boys basketball had grown increasingly frustrated with his team’s shot selection down the stretch in a tight game against Frederick Douglass Academy, and it was time to talk things over.
So with his Senators trailing by four with 3:21 to play, Hamlett summoned his inner Bobby Knight — from his Indiana coaching days, not his Texas Tech days — and ripped into his team.
Lots of yelling, lots of exhorting, even a slammed clipboard on the floor. Surely, his Senators were now motivated to close things out against the Lions and head home with victory No. 6 on the season.
Well, not all of Knight’s motivational tirades worked either.
On a day that saw the Senators see countless open shots miss their mark, Nick Bliss’ layup attempt with seven seconds remaining also failed to go down as Douglass held on for a 43-41 victory at Lehman College.
“It was frustrating because we were down in the first half and we battled back and took a three-point lead,” Hamlett said. “But then we took some really, really bad shots. We forced the ball. And when we had some good open looks, we just didn’t make them. It was a very frustrating loss.”
American Studies never led in the first half and trailed 23-16 at halftime as a plethora of shots continued to bounce off the rim or rattle in and out. But the third quarter saw the Senators finally catch Douglass, and when Noam Pechter sank a pair of free throws with just over a minute left in the period, the game was knotted at 29.
American Studies took its first lead of the game at the start of the fourth when Troy McLean converted a three-point play, and it was here both Hamlett and Bliss, a senior captain, thought the Senators would make their run. Instead FDA’s Elijah Russell scored six of his 13 points down the stretch. When Bliss’s layup with seven seconds to play missed, Douglass was able to escape with the win.
“It was definitely a tough loss,” said Bliss, who finished with a game-high 14 points. “One of the biggest things was we weren’t able to extend (was) the lead. We were up three and it seemed like we were going to pull away, but we kind of let their big guy hit a couple of shots.
“We also didn’t convert on some easy shots we should have made. It’s definitely a frustrating loss knowing that we could have and should have won that one.”
The loss capped a 1-1 week for the Senators, who had earlier overpowered Marie Curie 83-35. Despite the loss to Douglass, it has been something of a bounce back season for the Senators, who are coming off back-to-back campaigns in which they failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Last season the Senators won seven games, and just six the year before. Now American Studies is 5-2 with two league games to play before Christmas break.
So what’s different with the Senators this season?
“We’re playing with confidence, and we’re playing as a team, and the senior leadership that we really didn’t have the past couple of years is here,” Bliss said.
“And we also have some strong roleplayers.”
The Senators were expected to be tested this week taking on an undefeated Bronx School of Law & Government on Dec. 17, followed by a rematch with Albert Tuitt High School on Dec. 19. Tuitt had handed American Studies its only other loss of the season on opening day.
“I think those two games are really going to tell us where we’re at as a team,” Bliss said. “It’s going to give us a chance to see what we’re made of. We’re either going to bounce back or we’re going to fold.”
And for a team that has designs on a playoff appearance after a two-season postseason drought, getting back on track is a must if Bliss and his fellow seniors are to reach the playoffs in their final season.
“Being in the playoffs in my last year, and as a captain, would mean a lot to me,” Bliss said. “The last two years we’ve made the playoffs with the baseball team, and it’s a great feeling, especially winning a game or two. But to do it on a team where I’m a captain, to bring this team to the playoffs, that would mean a lot to all of us.
“It would be a nice way to go out.”