In the latest edition of the "draw the starting lineup out of a hat" game, we went with Relly, Retin, Levi, Hale, and Carl. Although I generally don't like having both Relly and Retin in the starting lineup, this group played well together. It's a smaller unit, so I'm not sure we'll see it against teams with big front lines that are more oriented towards post play.
We pressed a lot more which caused problems for a team missing their starting point guard. We also substituted 4 at a time on several occasions during the game. You rarely see those kinds of mass subs at the college level, but for a team with a short bench that is trying to press and play uptempo, I don't necessarily have a problem with it. It's a good way to keep fresh legs in the game, but you also run the risk of messing up the chemistry and flow of the game. That's exactly what happened in the second half when we took Releford and Hale out of the game and things went stagnant.
We were able to build a 10 point lead by halftime that we stretched to 16 in the first few minutes of the second half. The team played very well the first 28 minutes or so of the game. As I mentioned above, the defense created offensive and transition opportunities, but I also thought our half-court offense was actually respectable when needed. While the ball movement and reluctance to take open shots is still a concern, we are at least mixing in some high post sets and guys like Carl are making good passes, while Shannon Hale and a few others are doing a better jobs of finding the soft spots along the baselines and making good cuts. I was really pleased with the way Shannon Hale played, he seems to be developing nicely. He made a few big turnovers late in the game, and still gets lost or beat on defense occasionally, but his versatility on offense is a huge asset that we desperately need right now.
Once again, the lack of a killer instinct and inability to close out a game nearly cost us. With a 16 point lead, the team seemed to relax after the mass substitution around the 12 minute mark, and Vandy was able to get a couple of open 3s to cut the lead down to 10. Speaking of Vandy's offense, we had no answer for Odom. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds shooting 5 for 7 from 3 point range. Despite his defensive limitations, I sort of wish we would have at least tried putting Shannon Hale on him. He was just too big for Levi to handle, and our bigs can't keep up with him on the perimeter.
The officials actually called fouls on Vandy, at least in the first half, which was a pleasant surprise. It seems like every time we play Vandy we have to beat their 88% perimeter shooting AND the officials. For the most part, Tony Greene's crew did a good job, although Pat Adams came out of his area to make at least 3 calls against us.
I told my girlfriend after the 8 minute media timeout in the 2nd half that the next 3-4 minutes of the game would be huge. Our 16 point lead had been cut to 10, and the team didn't seem to have the same energy and focus that built the lead in the first place. I felt it was a turning point, either we would establish control of the game, or we would be in for a battle. Immediately thereafter, Vandy scored on a possession where they got 5 shots at the goal. It looked like our late game rebounding issues would haunt us in another close one. We were forced to call a timeout just before the under 4 media break because Vandy had sliced our lead down to 5.
I've been hard on Nick Jacobs, and while he still didn't have a great game by any stretch, he did make some huge shots in the final 3-4 minutes to help us cling to the lead. It seemed like for the last couple of minutes the lead went between 3 and 5 points, but we managed to not give them the ball with a chance to tie. A key possession came just under the 2 minute mark after Vandy had cut the lead down to 3 and seemed to have momentum. Shannon Hale lost the ball on the baseline and recovered it, but was trapped. I may or may not have actually called the timeout from the 2nd row. I yelled "TIMEOUT TIMEOUT" and the official immediately blew his whistle, but our bench did not react at first. We could all hear the official clearly ask coach Grant, "You called timeout, right?" Everyone on the front row turned around and looked in my direction, and presumably Coach Grant said yes because we were granted a 30 second timeout. In retrospect, if he really didn't call it, he should have said "no" because then it would have been an inadvertent whistle, and we would have retained the ball since we possessed it at the point of interruption. Regardless, the play we ran out of that timeout didn't necessarily "work," but Retin bailed us out with a huge contested 3 as the shot clock ran down. That doubled our lead going into the final 1:30 and Vandy was never able to recover.
In conclusion, there were a lot of positives in this game. Most notably some guys stepping up offensively and giving Releford some help. We had 4 players in double digits, including Shannon Hale, Levi, and Retin. Unfortunately, we continue to struggle on the boards and our post play is lacking, and we blew a big lead when we needed to put the game away. We are now back to .500 and 1-0 and tied for first place in the SEC!
Considering the team's performance to date, the extremely cold temperatures outside, and the late tipoff, I thought the crowd of around 5,000 or so was decent. We had a very good student turnout with classes starting back today, the student section was pretty full with the exceptions of the corners.
Up next, we travel to Athens, GA to take on the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday at 4 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on SEC TV. Georgia has the lowest RPI of any SEC team, so this is a must win game. We also need to get our first win away from Tuscaloosa to build confidence for the remaining SEC road games. The blog will be well represented, with both Bobbyjack and I there to represent.