It wasn't pretty but it was a win. I said in an earlier post that this will be a team that relies heavily on perimeter shooting, and is the type of team that could upset anybody on a given night if the shots are falling, but could lose to anybody on a given night if they are off. This game definitely fell into the latter category, but thankfully we were able to find a way to win despite shooting 2 for 17 from three point range.
First, the positives. Michael Kessens returned to action and had a nice game. He's a big man who can stretch the floor a bit with a decent mid-range jump shot ability. I liked having him and Jimmie Taylor in the game together to run some pick and pops and a high-post-low-post game against the zone. When it became obvious that our shots were not falling, we found other ways to score, primarily getting to the free throw line where we made 76%. Once again we had 4 guys score in double figures, and Jimmie Taylor emerged as an offensive threat in the post with 15 points. He's not going to score a lot with his back to the basket, but we ran some well designed plays to get him open dunks and lay-ups, that were well timed and executed. Levi continues to do everything you would hope for from a senior captain, and more.
Getting Kessens back allowed us to play 10 guys, but I think some of the new lineups effected our chemistry a bit. It was obvious that certain groups just need a little bit more time playing together. We lost a few rebounds fighting against our own teammates, threw some passes away because one player would expect the other to cut when they didn't, etc. While we were definitely more sloppy in this game than the last two, I still think the offense played fairly well. We had more turnovers, but despite shooting only 2 for 17 we still scored 80 points, which is about what we had in the first two games. We had a lot of good, open shots that just didn't fall, and you could tell the team lost some confidence.
The officiating was very inconsistent. They called 16 fouls in the first 9 minutes of the game, and then in the second half, only called 5 for the first 10 minutes or so, passing on a lot of calls with a similar level of contact that were being called in the first half.
At several points in the first half and early second half we were able to stretch the lead to 8, but seemingly always took the foot off the gas and allowed WCU to score on a 2nd or 3rd chance opportunity, or would miss an open shot or turn the ball over. WCU kept fighting back, and switched to a zone defense that really gave us some problems in the 2nd half. They eventually took a 5 point lead with about 7 minutes to play.
My girlfriend commented that Justin Coleman should be playing more, as he sat on the bench most of the second half. Almost immediately after she said that, Ricky Tarrant leaves the game with an injury and Coleman came in to make our only 3 pointer of the second half and give Bama the lead for good. I understand the thinking behind going with Tarrant over Coleman for much of the game, Tarrant was playing very well, frequently getting to the free throw line and scoring 18 points in the process. Plus, it was a close game and Coach Grant usually errs on the side of the more experienced players in those situations. Still, Coleman seems to elevate everybody else's games offensively and he certainly had the ability to give us the outside shooting we were missing in this game. It will be interesting to see how their time is divided going forward. Having two excellent point guards is not a bad problem to have.
In conclusion, we really didn't play well, but it seems like every year we end up losing a game like this in November or December and it comes back to haunt us. At least we were able to do enough things well to overcome our mistakes and get a win.
The game very sparsely attended, it was one of the deadest atmospheres I can remember at Coleman in a long time. I would guess there was probably only 1,000 or so people there. WCU has two players from Alabama who brought a lot of friends and family, so the Catamounts had 50-60 backers on their side.
Up next, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles come to town for an 8pm Thursday night tipoff. They are also 2-0 and coming off a 68-59 come from behind win over South Alabama. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.