Oakland is probably not an NCAA tournament quality team, they have a horrible record against a brutal schedule, but I have little doubt they are better than Mercer (who just lost to 1-13 Kennesaw State, btw) so this 20 point win was quite an improvement over what we have seen the last few weeks.
The game started off slow like so many of our other games. We never really fell behind but the offense was sluggish in the first half and we went to halftime with only a 6 point lead. I was surprised that we played as much man to man defense as we did. We've spent most of the season bashing Moussa Gueye and Nick Jacobs on here, but let's give them credit for a great game in this instance. Our bigs held Oakland's starting center to just 2 points while mostly playing a man to man defense.
While I still felt like we passed up too many good, open shots offensively, we did a much better job of sharing and moving the basketball to get open shots. It helped that we actually shot the ball at a reasonably good clip as well. Releford and Levi both had good offensive games, picking up the slack for Trevor Lacey who had an off day.
I thought Coach Grant did an excellent job of picking his spots on where to press, and we were able to force some turnovers which created some easy offensive opportunities in the second half. As opposed to the previous two home games, we did not let up or get complacent once we got a double digit lead. Hopefully, that lesson has finally been learned.
In fact, I thought the effort and intensity was great all night. I think some of the credit for that has to go to Andrew Steele coming back in his first game from injury. While he did not have a great game statistically, and he's really not a good shooter, he leads by example diving after lose balls and keeping possessions alive. It was great to see the guys getting after the loose balls and bringing it on defense every possession. I think we lose some of that when we are forced to play more zone.
We had one inexcusable mistake in the second half when we were called for a technical foul for having 6 players on the court. That is the mark of an unorganized team and should never happen at the Division 1 level. In fairness, the officials are partly to blame as well. The official administering the throw in should never give the ball to the player until confirming with the other officials that the substituting team has completed their substitutions. The only exception is when a team is taking exceeding long to do so or intentionally stalling. In this instance, we were not intentionally stalling, but there was some confusion and Andrew was slower than he should have been in leaving the court. That being said, the official who administered the throw in obviously did not realize that we had 6 players on the court, but he did not immediately call the technical. In fact, Oakland's coach had to point out to the crew that a technical foul had occurred. It was one of many examples of lack of communication from the officiating staff in this game, that should not occur at this level.
Fortunately, it did not really hurt us, because Oakland only made one free throw and we knocked down back to back threes immediately after to put the game out of reach. This was a solid win that will hopefully give us some confidence going into SEC play.
As a side note, many have noted that Coach Grant does not seem very emotional during games. From my perspective sitting just behind the bench, I think that is someone of an unfair mischaracterization. Sure, he's not a sweaty, animated clown the entire 40 minutes like Bruce Pearl, but he has his moments. His facial expression rarely changes, and he has a deep voice that does not carry as much, so I think he comes across as more stoic than he really is. During timeouts you can clearly here him yelling at the guys usually a couple of times per game. This particular game is was Retin Obasohan who caught Coach's wrath after a turnover where he failed to protect the ball and did not really go after it once it was knocked away. Most games, Moussa Gueye is on the receiving end of those rants for one thing or another, but as mentioned above Moussa played very well against Oakland, and I think the staff was pleased with his efforts Saturday. At one point late in the game after a couple of questionable calls, Coach Brennan had to physically pull Coach Grant back into the coach's box or he would have likely picked up a technical foul.
The crowd was probably the worst of the season. Many of the students are not back on campus and a lot of the faithful have already made the journey to Miami for the football National Championship game. There were entire empty sections, and I would guess there was probably no more than 3,000 people or so there. Thankfully, the team took care of business and did not need a crowd to get them motivated. Up next, we go to Missouri to play arguably the best team in the conference, and one of the top 10 in the country on the road Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 6pm on ESPN.