What a difference a week makes.
After the near-choke-artistry last Sunday against North Florida, we focused on the student part of student-athlete with finals week. Could that be a much-needed week away from games, or would we have some lay-off lag?
Some saying that, as the #21 ranked team in the country with some very good athletes and basketball players, this would be the toughest test we've faced this year. Others, including myself, thought this might go better than the WVU game, since WVU was a mirror image of us.
What we were given was the best 40 minutes of the year from The Wildcats. You're going to be amazed where it came from.
What would you expect if I told you that The Big Gip - Thomas Gipson - had his worst game of the season, statistically speaking?
What would you expect if I told you that Bama attempted two more shots than us, given our recent offensive woes?
What would you expect if I told you that Jamar Samuels went scoreless in the first half? (Nevermind)
Since Mitch Holthus announced the game - and as a former K-State announcer, many of you know what I'm talking about - here's a little tribute:
We had big, big, big, big, big, big, big play from the bench tonight.
Things weren't all roses though. With all of 6 points scored cumulatively in the first 5+ minutes of the game, neither team started well. Then Bama started making some shots, and well, on par with our previous games, we didn't. At one point well into the game - I think it was with about 8 minutes left in the half - we were shooting 13% from the floor. As in barely over one-out-of-ten. We were busting our ass on both ends of the floor, and shots just weren't falling. Frankly, we were a couple of Bama TOs away from getting run out of the gym. We ended up putting some good offensive plays together late in the half, even taking a 2-point lead into the locker room, fueled by a positive AST/TO ratio. We keyed off of a strong finish to the first half, making nearly 67% of our FG attempts in the second half, making the vast majority of our FTs in the second half, and steadily pulling away in a "three-steps-forward, one-step-back" fashion, to put the game away with about 2:30 left. Don't let the offensive outburst (45 points) in the second half fool you - we won this game on defensive effort. Our hustle with our backs to the basket in the first half was the only reason we even had a chance, forcing 10 TOs, allowing only 4 AST, and chalking up 4 STLs.
Bama has three great players in Tony Mitchell - a 6'-6" swingman that has a good jumper and can absolutely jump out of the gym; JaMychal Green - 6'-8"/240 post that can stretch off the block, has above-average post D, and, like Mitchell, jump out of the gym; and Trevor Releford - a shifty, quick young guard with an outstanding nose for the hoop. These guys got theirs. Mitchell made some great shots and played solid D. Green went for 20 and 9, and straight up shut The Big Gip down. Releford repetitively made it around Martavious Irving all night, getting many layup attempts, while finding teammates for 6 AST.
The typical way to win games? Understand the other team's star(s) is going to hit their averages. Don't let anyone ELSE beat you. Which is exactly how we held Alabama in check. No one else had a remarkable game.
Overall, this was easily the best 40 minutes of basketball we've played, and truly shows what this team is capable of. Which is nice - we've all been wondering what we can do, haven't we.
Good things to take away:
- 40 Minutes of Defensive Effort. Now, I'm not saying we played perfect defense every possession. In fact, when Bama broke our D down, they usually got a dunk or layup out of the deal. But by and large, we were pressuring passing lanes, protecting against the back-door cut, and rebounding the best we've done all year. Dino Gaudio on The U just said, "I don't know if there's a better half-court defensive team right now than Kansas State." Can't say I disagree, after watching tonight.
- Poor shooting not affecting effort on D. Pretty self explanatory. It's very difficult to keep the defensive pressure up when shots aren't falling. The way we built a freaking house with all of our bricks in the first half? Just that much more impressive.
- Big, big, big, big, big, big, big win. Honestly, our post-season fate was probably teetering on the outcome of this game. We came out and dominated the second half against the most athletic and most complete team we've played yet this year. Let's hope this continues.
- FT shooting. 67% FT shooting doesn't sound amazing. But when you shoot 22-33 for the night, including a 18-26 clip in the second half, that's big. And it wasn't all from typically good shooters - Jamar Samuels went 9-11 from the charity stripe in the second half alone.
- Coaching. Bama isn't a good 3PFG team, so in the second half - when it was clear that the Tide was making good plays against our man-to-man - HCFM puts us in a 2-3 zone. Some poor rotations by us at times, but if you play a zone, and the other team goes 2-14 from 3PFG, things are probably going to work out pretty well.
- Not a definitive bullet-point concept, but this was the most complete we've played as a team this year. Worth mentioning again. We had a rough go of it offensively the first 15 minutes or so, but for the remainder of the game, we were clearly the better team.
- Shooting. We've got to figure out a way to get the ball in the goal early in games. We can't keep playing games where we score fewer than 6 points by the second media timeout.
- Dealing with full-court pressure. We coughed up a majority of our TOs against Alabama's press, both off the baseline and off the sideline. We just gotta do better. Miles Simon mentioned that we worked on it for 45 minutes yesterday. I woulda never guessed watching that game. Will Spradling needs to find a left hand to break pressure, because they knew he was going right every time; JamSam needs to stop dribbling the ball up the floor. But, that being said, Will and Angel Rodriguez need to do a better job getting to the ball. This was the legitimate gripe I had on us tonight. If there's one important thing to take away from this game into practice before Hawaii - it's that we are pretty vulnerable to a disciplined and athletic run-and-jump.
- Rodney McGruder: C-. Aside from an athletic drive very early in the game - our first two points - Rod was a non-factor on offense. Won't give the kid a D because he actually played some D...but only scored 2 points, but made some plays that just looked like he wasn't entirely in the game. Not a TO on the night, but not the performance you'd expect out of an experienced starter. Never made it to the stripe...very limited aggressiveness. Only played 24 minutes - a season low, I believe.
- Jamar Samuels: D first half, B+ second half. Had 0 PTS, 1 REB, 2 Fouls, and missed at least two point-blank shots early in the game. Sat most of the first half due to foul trouble and general ineffectiveness. Comes out and scores 14 PTS and grabs another 3 REB in the second half, and plays some effective though not exceptional defense. What else is new?
- Thomas Gipson: C-. Kid plays hard, just had a rough go of it tonight. JaMychal Green was just too big, too athletic for the Gip to do his thing tonight. But despite being outplayed most of the night, he made two big blocked shots, one hustling the length of the floor and denying a layup. Went 1-6 FG, 1-5 FT. 3 PTS, 4 REB, 3 TOs, 3 fouls. Good effort, but not good production.
- Martavious Irving: B-. Our best on-ball defender got burnt left, right, up, down, and every other which way by Trevor Releford tonight. But on the other hand, Tay created a number of his own 12-15 footers, making 4 of them and finishing with 9 PTS, 4 REB, 1 STL in 26 minutes. It's amazing what a handful of made shots will do for the perception of performance.
- Will Spradling: B. Team leader? Team leader. I'm calling it. This is Will's team. Team-high 28 minutes (2 early fouls in the first half), finished with 8 PTS on 3-6 FG shooting, 5 AST to only 1 TO, and racked up 3 STL. Needs to continue to work on on-ball D, but he's leaps and bounds better than last year. Don't sleep on Sprads...he's the most consistent player on the team.
- Jordan Henriquez: A. Ladies and gentlemen, we had a JO sighting. After putting out an APB for the lanky one following his AWOL performances against WVU and North Florida, the guy had a GAME. Career high 17 PTS (7-9 FG, 3-4 FT), 8 REB, 2 BLK, 1 AST, only 1 TO, 3 fouls in 24 minutes. None of the ball-fumbling giraffe we're prone to see - just JO at his best. I said before the game that JO would be the X-Factor; if Jordan had a good game, we had a good chance to win. Angel-to-JO was a repetitive play that resulted in dunks and layups. JO just about had the play of the game, with a fake handoff at the high post, hard spin to the right and down the lane, and dunk...but he didn't finish the dunk, which actually saved my beer at the time. Meh...tradeoffs.
- Angel Rodriguez: A-. Angel also had himself a career-type game tonight. We saw flashes of what Angel can do, and it should make all of us very happy. Played a little more under control than previously seen, but was very creative and aggressive on offense. Finally made a 3, and once he forced Bama to respect the shot, he started driving to the bucket off the shot fake. Didn't shoot the ball particularly well - 3-9 - but still finished with 13 PTS, 7 AST, 3 REB, 1 STL, 3 TO in 26 minutes. Had two nifty no-looks leading directly to point-blank buckets, and a behind-the-back dribble-drive-to-teardrop in the second half that made everyone stand up and take notice. Let's keep the right frame of mind here - he's a freshman. Let's not get ahead of ourselves on expectations, but without him and JO tonight, we don't win this game.
- Shane Southwell: B-. Southwell Paradox. Nuff said. 1-2 FG, 1-2 FT, 5 REB, 3 TO in 21 minutes. Spent entire periods of the game completely invisible, shot in and did something - good or bad - and promptly vanished again. Argh. THIS is the guy that I wish would be consistent.
- Victor Ojeleye: A. Might seem high, but I'm giving the guy credit for giving us some HUGE minutes tonight. 2 PTS (1-2 FG), 1 REB, 1 STL in 9 minutes. But he played solid D, and more importantly, just didn't make any mistakes. No TOs, no fouls, and his only missed shot was a wide-open 3 I was completely OK with him taking. Frankly, if you can get net-positive minutes out of Vic in a game against a ranked opponent, they're HUGE, and he gets a good grade.