So that’s what Bill means when he says that we’ll only go as far as Sherron takes us. Fair enough. He still played well in the second half, but his first half was about as good as a point guard can play offensively. 14 points. 5 assists. 0 turnovers. And just as importantly, he truly controlled the game in every sense of the word.
Another factor that controlled the game was the crowd. That was the best Allen Fieldhouse crowd I’ve been a part of since last year’s K-State game and; despite what the Tennessee players say, I think it rattled them. Whether it was the name, the history or just the noise, they got a bit too hyped and weren’t able to play with anything between their ears for about ten minutes. Lucky for us, Sherron and Cole came out firing and the young guys followed suit to the tune of a 25-9 lead before the twelve minute mark. Two stats really stood out to me: the first was the 25 assists on 34 FGs - that’s great ball movement and; secondly, our +6 edge in team rebounding. They had a size advantage at nearly ever position and always sent four to the glass and yet we still came away with more – very impressive, despite allowing them 18 on the offensive end.
As we all knew would happen Tennessee got their act together to make a few runs. Impressively, we always responded – keeping them at arms length throughout. As much as I enjoyed the first eight minutes and as much as I love blowing out good teams, I was happy that Tennessee was able to make those runs. It showed a lot about our guys that they were able to revel in the moment and use the energy in the building to their advantage. But it showed a lot more about them that they were able to withstand several runs and battle it out for a victory.
As you may recall, this same thing happened against Syracuse. Only that time, we were never able to re-stretch our lead after their runs. And in the end, we missed a couple free throws, they made a couple plays and all of a sudden we’re losing in overtime. Yesterday, whenever Tennessee made a push we responded by getting a bucket, getting a stop and thus, keeping them at safe distance. The loss to ‘Cuse was frustrating, but if it was part of teaching us how to win like we did yesterday, then it served a viable purpose.
Player Report Cards…
Sherron Collins: A. I won’t give him an A+ because of the four turnovers. But those aside, he couldn’t have been much better. 26 points on 14 shots. 9 assists (and should have been more). 5 boards and 1 steal. Just a great game from every perspective.
Cole Aldrich: A. Same as with Sherron, I can’t quite give Cole a perfect grade because of his three turnovers. But other than that, we can’t ask for more. 10-14 for 22 points and of course his standard 10 boards. Mix in 6 blocks (and another 8+ altered) and a nice job of staying out of foul trouble against a quick team (37 minutes) and you’ve got yourself a dominant game from your center.
Tyshawn Taylor: B. He played better than that, but he only played 23 minutes because of his fouls. 6-11 for 12 points was great. But just as helpful were his three assists to only 1 turnover. And despite fouling a couple times too many, I really liked how he played defense – generally keeping the athletic Vols out of the lane and tempting them to shoot from the outside.
Brady Morningstar: B. I know some people get a little frustrated with him and did especially so yesterday with the inbounding struggles (not all his fault – see below), but he’s really surpassed expectations. Hit 3 of 5 threes to up his team-leading percentage to 47.8% on the year. Add in his six assists, four rebounds and sound defense and we really have to be pleased with what he’s giving us.
Markieff Morris. C. Given that he fouled out in seven minutes, it probably should be worse. But in those meager minutes he was 2-2 for four points, stole us a possession with an offensive rebound, got another on the defensive end and didn’t turn the ball over. Extrapolate that out and you’ve got yourself one nice game…
Marcus Morris: C+. Marcus also fouled out, but he made it to 20 minutes. The airball and four turnovers weren’t his finest moments. But I thought he did some really nice things otherwise. For starters, his defense (though a bit too handsy) was pretty good on some very skilled players. And beyond that he scored 7 points, came up with 6 boards (2 0), 2 assists and 2 steals.
Tyrel Reed: B. Kind of a weird game for Tyrel. Didn’t do anything too bad (0 TOs), but never really came up with a consistent presence despite playing 24 minutes. He hit a very big three after Tennessee had made a little run and finished 2-5 from deep leading to 8 total points. Also came up with 2 offensive boards and had 2 assists.
Mario Little: B+. Which is really just a random guess since I have no idea what to expect out of him. For one thing, I was happy he gave us 10 minutes. And for another, I loved how active he was – coming up with 5 boards and 2 assists in that short time frame. He missed all three of his shots, but his form and release look good – and I think we’ll really like how he fits in the rotation as he gets acclimated.
Travis Releford: B-. Only got out there for 8 minutes and came up with four boards in that time. Still doesn’t look close to comfortable in the half court offense, but is making an impact defensively and on the glass.
All in all, I give the team a collective A- for the performance. From top to bottom I could not have been more pleased with every facet of the game except one: inbounding the ball. That was hideous. Luckily we got a few easy buckets off Tennessee’s over-pursuit, but it was generally horrible. And for that I think equal blame goes to the players and the staff. Each and every time we actually ran a play/set a screen we freed someone for a pretty easy look. Yet the other 25 times we simply stood around or guys broke on their own just trying to get open. Given our past athletes/ballhandlers, I can kind of see why we thought it could work, but not with this group of young guys. Set a damn screen. Run a damn play. If for some reason we didn’t count on that type of pressure (which would be inexcusable), do something to adjust.
But that aside, I have no qualms. The ball movement was great. Half court execution was pretty good. Transition offense was extremely good. And team defense was generally excellent. There were some bad fouls and brain cramps, but we moved our feet well and always got a hand up – ultimately leading to them shooting 39% after catching fire late. Anytime we’re plus 12% on FG% and win the battle of the boards, we’re going to be pretty tough to beat. Now we need to take care of Siena and see if we can’t really take a step by winning in East Lansing.