The first thing that surprised me was that Ron Steele not only played but started the game. I thought the coaches might want to rest his knee one more game, but with 5 days before Notre Dame perhaps he needed to play with the team. The second surprise was that Coleman was the first big man off the bench today instead of Jemison, who seemed to have passed him in the rotation. Those are just two more reasons why CMG coaches our team and I do not. :-)
Hendrix and Gee both got into early foul trouble. Each of them bought one early foul that should not have been called, but Hendrix should know better than to keep lowering his shoulder when the officials already have called a charge on him. Gee committed an unnecessary foul trying to get back a ball he had lost in traffic. With continued coaching they can learn not to make those types of mistakes. At least they were hustle type mistakes and were made at full speed.
Another unpleasant thing about this game was the way the team let TSU back into the game after having earned a 24 point lead. Much of that lead was lost with Gee and Hendrix on the bench (put there by their own foul troubles) and with Hollinger at the point, but even with the starters back in they took several possessions to reassert themselves.
One other negative was how our ball handlers lost the ball from behind on several possessions. Both the forwards and point guards showed problems here, but these too are correctable mistakes. We also were beat out on the boards. As JD said in his post-game interview, "Coach is going to be pretty mad."
To begin the plus side, TSU was a pretty good team and had two kids who could play for almost any team in the country. They were well coached and played hard and together as a team the entire game. This was a solid win against decent competition.
Another huge plus is that Riley found his shot (four of six outside the arc) and was the team's second leading scorer. An equally impressive plus was the flow of the offense in the first half. The High post was working almost to perfection, Davidson had two assists and Hendrix five. The coaches used the time outs effectively in the first half and set up back door cut plays to Gee, Hollinger, Riley and Torrence. Riley had another set up, but bobbled the ball allowing the defense to force him to alter his shot.
TSU played a tough man-to-man defense in the second half that slowed down the offense, but they played a lot of zone in the first half. The ball movement against that zone was excellent. I noticed Riley running the baseline against that zone the way Kentucky used to do in the late seventies with Chuck perturbed.
Not many of JD's outside shots fell, but enough of them did to help make the high post work. JD also faked his shot from outside several times (something I've wondered why our team does not do more often) to set up his drive or dish. He even made one clever outside play when his jumper would have been blocked so he dribbled the ball on his way down to avoid a walking call.
The defense was more than credible. We did give up some threes to their player with the hot hand, but several of those shots were open because our guards and forwards were giving trapping help. We moved quickly to guard the shooter but got there a half step late several times. Again, this is something that can improve with time.
Coleman's play was improved. He does not move as quickly as Davidson, but he is larger, provides a big body inside, and seems to body up well to afford him rebounding opportunities. It was good to see Coleman play well enough to spell Hendrix, but that also kept me from seeing much of Jemison.
Torrence's father told me last week that the coaches intend to play him at the point, the two guard and the small forward. He has the body and the talent to play all three positions, but they played Hollinger at the point today. They also replaced Riley with Hollinger the last few minutes, presumably to help control the ball and to provide a reliable free throw shooter. I am beginning to believe that Torrence will start at the point after Steele leaves, because of his size, his passing ability, and his ability to slash toward the basket and lay the ball in with either hand. It will be fun to watch Riley and Hollinger battle for playing time at the point.
For the most part I think the teams mistakes and break downs today are attributable primarily to their youth. Remember we play only one senior and two juniors, one of whom is a juco transfer. All but two of our "veterans" are true sophomores. Any team that young will be prone to make mistakes. Steele's and Davidson's leadership will be crucial to keeping the youngest kids under control. Hendrix and Gee need to contribute by not getting into silly foul trouble.
I don't want his fouls to be the only thing I type about Hendrix. For the most part he played a solid game. He is a force on the boards, has a nice move to the basket with the ball in his hands, and maintains an incredible eye for the open man when he gets cut off or doubled near the basket.
I'd say this was a very positive outing. The team won a hard-fought game that will give the coaches a number of things they can correct. If CMG does not freeze out his bench once SEC play starts, we should have the talent and depth we need to go a long way.
After having seen two games live and two on television, I am even more excited about this team than I was before the season started. We are going to lose some games, but this team will be a whole lot of fun to watch, especially within the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum.
Roll Tide, brothers, Roll Tide!