Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian pretty much knew what he was getting out of seniors Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott each game the past two seasons as that consistent trio led the Mount to 34 wins, two appearances in the Northeast Conference championship game, and one NCAA tournament berth.
With those three having graduated, Christian and the Mountaineers (4-7) go into their NEC opener (Saturday at 4 p.m. at Robert Morris) without nearly as much of an idea about what each Mountaineer might produce on a given night.
"What I'm really looking for now … from our group, is a level of consistency," Christian said following a win over Binghamton on Dec. 22. "A level where we can say every single night we can pencil in a guy for 12 or 14 points and six or seven reboudnds. It's time for us now as we start to move into league play not to have just a hot game but where he comes back the next game and has another winning performance."
That hasn't happened yet and, to this point, sophomore Byron Ashe has been the emodiment of that inconsistency.
The Mount's leading returning scorer from a year ago, Ashe was named one of three captains before the season. And the sophomore guard has had his moments, scoring 12 points at nationally ranked Arizona to start the season, putting up a season-high 16 to help the Mount win at Loyola, and tallying 15, including two huge 3-pointers, in an overtime win against Norfolk State.
Since Norfolk State, however, Ashe has scored a total of five points in three games, being shut out at American, benched against Binghamton, and then going just 1 for 12 from the floor in the Mount's final non-conference game, a 69-35 loss at Old Dominion on Dec. 30.
"He's an excellent player. We're going through some maturity things with him, but we're goint to get him there," Christian said. "We went through a lot of this stuff with some of the guys, even Rashad and Julian and Sam. We're going through some similar things with him.
"He's a very special player. He's really working hard to find that level of consistency. When he finds that level of consistency he's really going to help our team."
He's far from the only player who has had trouble stacking good games on top of good games.
When junior center Taylor Danaher had 12 rebounds on Dec. 20 at American it marked the same amount he had grabbed in the previous five games combined. Freshman point guard Junior Robinson has averaged 13 points and five assists in the team's past two wins, but only 3.0 points and 0.5 assists in the past two losses. Junior guard Chris Martin followed his 19-point game at Notre Dame with a three-point game at Norfolk State, then went from 18 against Binghamton to two at ODU. Forward Kristijan Krajina had 14 points in the Binghamton game but was held scoreless the next time out.
Perhaps a reflection of the team's inconsistency, Christian's rotation has been in serious flux. Big men Mawdo Sallah and Chris Wray sometimes play and sometimes don't. Guard Charles Glover sees extensive action in some games, almost none in others. Ashe averaged 24 minutes per game in NEC play on a loaded team a year ago. He's averaging just 19 minutes so far on this much younger team.
"It's going to be game by game," Christian said. "For the role guys to be more stable, it takes for some guys to be more consistent. We're going to be game by game for spots eight, nine, 10 and 11, but we need to have a secure top seven.
"I feel like we have guys that can help us win games. We need to get everyone buying into winning every game and not worrying about their minutes or their stats, then we're going to have a chance to be pretty good moving forward."
There have been some positives. The team went 1-1 without stalwart defender Gregory Graves, a junior forward who sustained a concussion at American. And backup point guard Khalid Nwandu has been progressing, his minutes and scoring average doubling over the past six games. And then there's Andrew Smeathers, a junior transfer from Butler who became eligible to play three games ago.
The 6-8 forward has improved in each game and actually leads the team in scoring average at 9.0 points per game. He made two free throws in the final seconds to beat Binghamton and he had season highs with 12 points and seven rebounds at ODU.
Christian likes the makeup of the team, likes the fact that he has the lengthy 6-8 Smeathers and 6-7 Graves to patrol the wing with the 7-foot Danaher and/or the 6-11 Krajina down low, and likes the way Smeathers and Martin can rebound from their position.
To Christian, it's all putting players in position to succeed and getting them to play well on a more regular basis.
"Everything we're doing here is about what's best for the team, putting the right guys on the floor, the best five guys on the floor that can help us and have that positive energy," he said. "Coaching is about helping guys find their max potential.
"We're really looking forward to what we're going to be able to do here as a team."
Reach staff writer Bob Blubaugh at 410-857-7895 or email@example.com.