Trevor Releford returned from his injury and played 31 minutes off the bench to lead all scorers with 15 points. If he was healthy enough to do that, I question why he was not starting. I have theorized that the plethora of starting lineup combinations that we have used may be a contributing factor to our slow starts this season. I don't know if there is anything to it or not, but once again we used an odd lineup of Lacey, Steele, Randolph, Cooper, and Gueye. If Releford was healthy enough play, as he obviously was, he should have been starting at PG, and I also believe Nick Jacobs earned a starting spot with his career high double-double against State ahead of Moussa Gueye.
Lacey started the game by knocking down a 3, but 10 minutes would pass before we scored again. At that point, we were on pace to score 12 points for the game. Thankfully we played good enough defense to keep it to a manageable 15-3 margin. There are a couple of ways of looking at this: On the one hand, it's fairly remarkable to be able to overcome a scoring drought that lasts a quarter of the game and still win. On the other hand, only bad teams go 10 minutes without scoring a single point. It's great that we can keep fighting and overcome adversity, but it's also concerning that we can't play a 40 minute game. As with most things, I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.
We were very tentative on offense in the first half. The mid-range game that sparked us in the last couple of wins was non-existent, and we were back to shooting exclusively from 3 point range or from the low post. Our missed shots were preventing us from setting up the press, so the defense was not able to force any turnovers to create any offense either. We went into the half down 26-15.
Our substitution patterns did not make much sense to me this game. Nick Jacobs scored to break the long drought and he was promptly taken out at the next dead ball. Lacey was also taken out at one point when he had the hot hand. Nick Jacobs played 23 minutes to Moussa's 17. I would like to see this split move more in the direction of 28/12 for Jacobs. I know Jacobs is a liability on defense, but he seems to be improving in that area. Gueye brings absolutely nothing to the table on offense. I think this is a perfect example of Coach Grant putting a little too much emphasis on defense at the expense of offensive production.
Coach Grant must have delivered the best halftime speech of all time, because we looked like a completely different team to start the second half. We had a focus, intensity, and mental sharpness that simply wasn't there in the first half. Again, Lacey got us started with a 3, and then the defense turned up the press, forced some turnovers, and we aggressively attacked the basket on offense. By the first media timeout, the Aggie lead was gone and the gym was rocking. The Aggies answered with a run of their own to take a 5 point lead, but Coach Grant called a timeout and we were able to answer.
I think we did an excellent job of clock management at the end of the game. It was a back and forth game, and Coach Grant used his timeouts at the right time and made solid offense/defense substitutions down the stretch. We trailed by 1 with 19 seconds left, and Coach Grant called timeout and drew up a play that gave Lacey a good matchup. Trevor created his own shot and made it with 8 seconds remaining, then Releford was able to come up with a loose ball as we forced a turnover in the back court to put the game away.
I think the announced attendance of 13,000+ was pretty accurate. It was a good crowd, but with the number of people in town for the BCS celebration it should have been a sell out. I spoke to a number of people earlier at the parade and they had no idea there was a basketball game even being played. It would have been very easy for Eli Gold to make a brief mention of the basketball game during the BCS Championship celebration. Our marketing of this basketball program is beyond pathetic.
Up next, the defending National Champion Kentucky Wildcats come in for an 8pm tipoff Tuesday night at Coleman Coliseum. This is an opportunity for another solid RPI win at home. If you can't make it to Ttown, the game will be televised on ESPN.