Well, this is right up there with the Belmont game last year, only this may be worse. Belmont turned out to be a pretty decent team and made the NCAA tournament. Best of luck to Mercer, but I don't see them pulling that off.
We fell behind 13-7 early, thanks to some awful shooting. I think we started out 1 for 9 from behind the arc. We rely on the 3 too much, and this was killing us. Mercer was a small team. Jemison was as tall as their tallest player. Our game plan should have been to work the ball into the post and take control of the game. I understand that the strength of our team is supposed to be our guard play, but this matchup dictated that we take advantage of our relative strength in the post. Finally we made the adjustment and starting working the ball in to Green and Jemison on the low block. Most of the time we either scored or drew a foul.
Unfortunately, our free throw shooting was not so great. JaMycheal Green has decent form for a big man, and has shot well from the charity stripe in the exhibition games, but he was off tonight. He did nearly everything else well tonight, but he struggled at the line. Let's hope it was just first game jitters.
We played pretty good defense for the most part. We forced a lot of turnovers and played an aggressive man to man defense for most the game. However, our full court press was woefully ineffective, which is hard to figure considering Mercer's poor ball handling ability.
Our effort on the boards was inexcusable. We should have dominated them on the glass, we are bigger and stronger. I could somewhat understand the rebounding woes if we played a zone, but as I mentioned, we were in the man to man most of the game. There were some funny bounces, but mostly we just did a piss poor job of blocking out. It seemed like their guards and wing men were able to get way more rebounds than they should have.
Mercer did a good job of slowing us down in the second half. Our half court offense is painful to watch. At some point in the last 5 minutes Ron Steele realized that we weren't going to be able to do anything offensively, so he took over and almost won the game by himself. However, there was no way anybody could shut down James Florence, Mercer's star guard, and single handedly provide the offense we would need to win. For the most part, Senario Hillman did an excellent job on Florence, but he got into foul trouble. Hollinger shut him down and should have got more playing time just to guard him.
They burned us about 3 or 4 times late in the game running Florence on a pick and roll. We finally adjusted to this by going to the zone, but then we gave up some open 3's.
We seem to lack a killer instinct, and this was a problem at times last year. For the most part, I don't think the loss was due to a lack of effort. The guys played hard and were more disappointed than any of us with the outcome. Everytime we took the lead, we got sloppy and let it slip back away.
This was not Gottfried's worst game as far as in-game coaching decisions go. He realized the outside shot was not there and made the adjustment to start going inside more, which paid off. As I mentioned, he also switched to the zone long enough to put a stop to their pick and roll. There were several instances when I thought we should have pressed after a made free throw when we had momentum, but as I mentioned, our press was not very effective when we did use it, so I can understand his decision in this regard. I do question why Hollinger did not spend more time guarding Florence. Also, Senario Hillman was on the bench with a 1:30 to play in a 1 point game. I know he had 4 fouls, but with his big play potential on both ends of the court, I think he needs to be in the game down the stretch. My biggest beef with him, is he watched our stagnant offense get shut down for 3 straight possessions as Mercer stretched their lead to 8 before calling a timeout. He should have stopped the bleeding when the lead was still only 4, or 6 at the latest. At the end of the day, when you lose to an inferior opponent at home, a lot of the blame has to go to the coaches.
There were a lot of questionable calls in this game. One in particular stands out, Hollinger should have forced the Mercer guard into a 5 second call, but instead was called for a ticky tack foul late in the shot clock, allowing Mercer to go to the line and secure the lead for good. Still, you shouldn't be in a position where something like that matters against a team like Mercer.
Even after Mercer went ahead for the last time with 13 seconds or so left, we had a great opportunity to get the lead back, as Gee was open on a break away. However, I believe it was Jemison's outlet pass was underthrown, resulting in a turnover. We still had one timeout left, and should have used it when we rebounded a missed a 3 with 2 seconds left, but instead we tried to throw it back out to Steele and didn't get another shot off.
Believe it or not, there were a few positives from this game. I complained in previous posts about our big men not going up strong with 2 hands in traffic around the basket. We were much improved in this area tonight, and as a result we scored more in the paint and got to the line more. It's the first game of the season, obviously there is a lot of basketball left to be played. (See Kentucky losing to Garnder-Webb last year, and VMI this year). The year we made it to the Elite 8, we lost to Athletes in Action before the start of the season. Mercer has a lot of upper classmen, and they did beat USC on the road last year. Still, it's hard to be very optimistic at this point.
Up next, the Florida A&M ratlers pay us a vist Wednesday night. I suspect the crowd will be even smaller than the 4,500 or so that showed up tonight.