Bama played a solid game for the most part but still blew a 13 point lead with 7'11" to go. This was my first chance to see the new squad live in Coleman Coliseum and I thought the team played well.
Torrance started at the point and did a serviceable job, but the half court offense does tend to bog down when he is at the point. Hollinger does a better job of feeding the ball to Hendrix underneath the basket, and he played at the point most of the game. Neither of them was able to guard Wise, the shooting guard who was the Golden Eagles leading scorer and probably could play on any team in the country.
CMG substituted liberally throughout the game. The most pleasant surprises to me were Knox and Hillman. Knox did not score much but he was a formidable presence underneath the boards and was a threat to take the ball to the hoop any time he got it down low. Hillman is a slashing scorer but his defense is what impressed me most.
The game would not have been close if Bama could shoot from the free throw line. I don't think USM missed more than three shots from the charity stripe, but Hendrix did not shoot more than about 50% from there and missed the front end of at least one shot while we were in the bonus. Even Hollinger, who was a clutch free throw shooter as a freshman, missed two of three shots after having been fould outside the arc. I do not know what our three point percentage was, but we did not seem to shoot many and did not hit many of those we took.
I thought CMG did a good job of directing the troops, with one exception. Wise had 18 points when Hillman started covering him. CMG took Hillman out when he picked up a second foul. Even when Hillman went back in, Hollinger and Tubbs guarded Wise. I thought that was a tactical error and Wise finished the game with about 33 points.
It looked to me like Riley and Torrance try to play defense with their hands and not with their feet. Hillman appeared fundamentally sound on defense, always playing with his feet first, and I think that is why he troubled Wise so tremendously.
Torrance was at the point at the beginning of the second half when the harassing defense was causing missed shots. Torrance seemed to have a really good eye for the outlet pass on the break and that part of the game worked very effectively during his tenure.
The team had relatively few turnovers given the up tempo nature of the game. All the players moved the ball unselfishly and the result was an improved offensive effort.
Hendrix again was the go-to guy. He has developed a hook shot from the right hand side of the basket that was very effective until he seemed to get a bit tired near the end of the game. They ran several plays to get Gee involved in the offense, but he scored most of his points as a result of his hustle.
This is a team that still needs work. I do not think they will learn the fundamentals of effective defense before the end of the season, but it definitely is being stressed and played more than on any CMG team of the past few years. They will be fun to watch and, if they keep up this effort, will continue to improve as the season progresses.
See you next Saturday.