We played better than most of us expected. We had the lead for a good part of the first half, and even lead briefly early in the second half, before falling behind by 15 and making it respectably close again in the final moments.
I watched the game in a sports bar, and missed the first 8 minutes due to Fox Sports' poor scheduling and the UGA-Ga. Tech game running late. Thankfully, that game did not go into overtime. I don't feel like I can tell as much by watching a game on TV because often times you cannot see all 10 players on the court. So, my observations on this one may be even more off the mark than normal.
I thought our halfcourt defense was excellent. We seemed to communicate well and handle their screens, and most importantly we did a great job defending the perimeter. We kept Oglesby in check, and he went off on us last year. Our bigs did a pretty good job of stepping out and playing defense away from the basket when necessary. There was a key stretch in the 2nd half when it seemed like we couldn't get a defensive rebound, but otherwise, we were solid on defense. At times in the first half I thought we were slow getting back and gave up a couple of easy baskets.
We still had trouble getting the ball inbounds and breaking the press at times, but we were much better in this area than we were against them last year. Offensively, we looked timid and just could not get anything going. Ron Steele stopped looking for his shot after the first half. Hillman, Gee, and especially Hollinger took a lot of bad shots. Hillman getting in foul trouble really hurt us offensively. Andrew Steele was great on defense, but he just isn't ready to be a solid, consistent contributor on offense yet. Again, I wonder why Torrance is not playing. It looked to me like our big men were not getting into position to get the ball in the post, which put a lot of pressure on our guards. We were able to beat them off the dribble most of the time, but had a hard time finishing around the basket.
The good news is that when we fell down by 15 with a few minute remaining, we continued to scrap and made it a game. We actually had a couple of chances to make it close, but we made bad decisions and turned the ball over. Last year, when we fell down double digits to these guys, we got ran out of our own gym.
There were several key possessions where we made bad decisions offensively that really hurt us. With a 1 point lead early in the second half, we took quick 3's with no rebounders under the basket, two possessions in a row. At one point during our scoring drought we had a 4 on 1 and ended up missing two shots from the perimeter and not scoring. With about a minute to play and down only 6, Hollinger tried to drive in and turned the ball over, when he had a wide open Ron Steele on the wing. That was probably our last shot at getting back in the game. I like Hollinger, but he had an awful game tonight.
I said earlier in the year that I thought we relied too much on the perimeter shot, and it would be difficult to win that way on the road. We've got to get some production in the paint if we are going to be competitive in these types of games. With the hostile crowd, travel, and different shooting backgrounds, it's difficult for most teams consistently make jump shots on the road.
Clemson is a solid team, but they did not play their best game. Their missed free throws and missed 3 point shots allowed us to come back and make it a game. Given how bad the SEC looks, that is probably the toughest team we will face the rest of the year, and we played them a good game.
Up next, the LSU Tigers will get us started in SEC play at 12:30 Central Time, Sunday afternoon. This is a big game in the SEC West, and I hope the Sunday start time won't hurt attendance too bad. It's also a big recruiting weekend for football, though I don't know if the prospects will still be around at that point. Unfortunately, I will not be there. I'm thinking the odds of me finding a sports bar on the west coast that will be open at 10:30 am on a Sunday to show an Alabama-LSU basketball game is probably not very good. I'm hoping to catch it on the internet. If you're going to the game, make a little extra noise to pick up my slack.