We stuck with the same starting lineup, and after falling behind 5-0 early we basically dominated the rest of the game. That was not a bad Georgia State team that we shut down. Arguably the best starting back court among mid majors was held to merely 10 points. Retin, Levi, and even Releford were all fantastic defensively. Perhaps more significantly, at least in the first half, we managed to play great defense while staying out of foul trouble. Unfortunately, that was not the case in the 2nd half, as we were called for 5 fouls in the first 2 minutes of the second half, and Georgia State was in the bonus for the final 15 minutes of the contest. I was also very encouraged by our improved rebounding. Ga. State did not get many second chance opportunities, and we significantly out rebounded them at both ends of the court. While they aren't a very big team, they came in out rebounding their opponents by 6 per game, and that has been a weakness for us up to this point.
I can't say enough good things about Retin Obasohan. He is an incredible athlete who just continues to improve. We all know about his quickness and his ability to get to the rim, but often overlooked is his defensive play and rebounding. He is as explosive as anybody I've seen when it comes to getting up off the floor quickly. He had 3 blocked shots and 4 rebounds to go along with his 4 steals last night, and we are talking about 6'1" guard! In the first half Georgia had a break away and I could see the Panther sizing up Retin, and I said to myself, "he's about to get swatted." I wish I could remember which Ga State player it was, but he attempted to dunk over Retin, but Retin got into perfect position, jumped straight up, and sent the ball back out to the perimeter. Later in the second half Retin had the ball on a 3 on 2 fast break, both defenders overplayed the pass, opening up a lane to the basket and he took advantage with a thunderous dunk. His jump shot still isn't there, and he does turn it over from time to time, but he sure is fun to watch, and I think our offense flows much more smoothly when he is in the game.
In fact, I think overall our offense has looked much better so far this year, we are getting into transition more, and in the half court set we are finding ways to attack and getting better ball movement. We haven't seen much of the "high ball screen when the shot clock gets to 4" that plagued us most of last season.
Releford continues to be the senior leader we need him to be. While his assist to turnover ratio is far from ideal for a starting PG, a big part of that is because he recognizes that he needs to be a scorer first on this team. He is getting the job done, but needs to take a little bit better care of the basketball in the process.
I was pretty hard on Carl Engstrom early in the season, but he is playing much smarter and faster now. He's finally starting to play at near the level he was prior to his injury last year. He makes good passes from the high post, is at least getting into position to affect shots defensively, and his hands seem to be improving which is helping his rebounding. I still think Jimmie Taylor has more upside over the long term, but Carl is definitely capable of giving us some quality minutes right now.
Also encouraging is that Shannon Hale had his best game so far. He played more aggressive and was able to get some rebounds, and he did a nice job defensively. I think this game was good experience for him as far as getting more comfortable and adapting to the speed of the game. He played over 25 minutes and scored 8 points.
Cooper finally made a couple of 3s, but unfortunately he missed all 4 other shots he took. While we certainly need his offense to come around, he really needs to step it up defensively in our next game, as he will likely draw the unenviable task of guarding Jabari Parker for most of the game.
Nick Jacobs only played 8 minutes and did not play well. I don't know if his off season shoulder injury is still bothering him, but it's certainly disappointing that his weight loss, at least to this point, has not translated to increased productivity.
Overall, this was the best the team has played so far in this young season. They are playing with great chemistry right now and everybody seems to understand their roles. While we still committed way too many fouls in the 2nd half, the fact that we were able to shut them down and still keep everyone on the court for the most part is a good sign that maybe we are adjusting to the new rules. Guys like Releford, Key, and Obasohan are learning to use the rules to their advantage and getting either to the line or the basket.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a crowd, I would say around 2,000 or so at best. Even Duke had a poor student turnout for their home NIT games, thanks to the NIT's shortsighted policy of not allowing free admission for students. It was good to see several members of our women's team there supporting the guys. Also, the McNeese state players and quite a few of their fans stayed around to watch our game. I would imagine they were rooting for GSU to boost their strength of schedule, but they were not very vocal.
Up next, Duke, Madison Square Garden, 9:30 EST next Wednesday on ESPN2. I'm not saying we will win, but if we play like we did last night, we will not be embarrassed, and I think we have a puncher's chance. For anyone in the NY area or interested in travelling, the UA NYC alumni chapter is offering a great deal on tickets plus a pregame gathering both days. Our ticket office did not receive an allotment of tickets, so this is a good way to ensure you are at least around the few other Bama fans there. Here is the link for details.
I watched a bit of the Arizona-Rhode Island game when I got back to Birmingham last night, and all the announcers talked about was how exciting the Arizona-Duke game will be. The rest of the country already hates us because we own college football, let's ruin everyone's dream Arizona-Duke championship game match-up and make them hate our basketball team too.