I had to break my Ph.D. hiatus (I am not writing about basketball until this Ph.D. is done, but it is SO hard- Google Chinanu Onuaku’s free throw).
However, last night’s Oklahoma- Kansas game illustrates my “make your freaking fouls shots” philosophy so perfectly, I had to make an exception.
This was going to be a fun game to watch- #1 playing #2, in the same conference, in January- there is so much on the line and these athletes played their hearts out.
It was a fast-paced, all-out race to the finish from the technical foul assessed to the KU bench 4 seconds into the game or that almost technical in the 1st OT for having 6 players on the court. It is the kind of ball I like to watch.
But after 3 OT Kansas proved they deserved the #1 spot in the land (AP poll had them at #1, but the coaches poll gave Oklahoma the #1 nod).
If Oklahoma had just made their free throws at the end of regulation, when the game was tied, there would have been no OT and they could have been giant killers.
But alas, it is free throw shots that win, and squander, games and KU nudged past Oklahoma at the line. Kansas made 78% (18/23)of their free throws to the Sooners 75% (18/24), but that is not the whole story. If Oklahoma would have won in regulation they would have kept the Jayhawks off the line 17 times as KU only had 6 free throw opportunities in the first 40 minutes. Oklahoma made 16/22 in regulation, but that leaves 6 points on the line. A comfortable margin to have knocked off a #1.
There have been three games since I have posted so let me catch you up:
1- The New Year’s Eve afternoon game against Mars Hill College was a blow out with the Spartans defeating the Lions 92-48. This game was played in Fleming gym and basketball is a great way to spend a holiday afternoon! Nick Paulos hit a long three at the halftime buzzer to get the crowd to their feet. This game was also where first year player, #1 Marvin Smith, got some significant playing time– 21 minutes. I’m excited to watch him mature into a great ball player.
2- On January 3, Mercer, a newcomer to the SoCon, traveled to Greensboro. They are a tough, team that plays well together, a formidable opponent for anyone. If you will remember, Duke learned that the hard way when the Bears knocked the Blue Devils out of the tournament. In honor of that moment and to congratulate the Bears for their ESPY I did what I do best- glitter up a poster
UNCG fell 55-76 after trailing for 40 minutes only tying the score once. It was hard, but the Spartans had a hard time connecting from beyond the arc (28%) and their free throw percentage was a paltry 45% (5-11).
3- Tonight, at the game by myself, the Spartans took the Bulldogs to overtime before losing by two 83-85. UNCG got off to a strong 5-0 start and the lead was bantered back and forth. There was a lot of sweat left on the court tonight! The Citadel beat us on the free throw line 85% to our 71%. They only put three of our player on the charity stripe (Locke going 10 times), but those points could have made the difference!
And just for fun:
UNCG opened the season at home in Fleming Gym against the Chowan Hawks with a 76-62 win. It wasn’t pretty, with Coach Miller saying, “I’m just glad we came out with a win.” But it’s hard to lay blame with either side- this ugly game came thanks to the refs. A total of 60 fouls were called and the players had a hard time finding a rhythm with the whistle going off so much.
Warming up, the Hawks had players with nice shots and during the game they executed clean, fast plays, but the Spartans took an early lead. Chowan tied the game twice, but could never get an upper hand. Part of that had to do with the four players that fouled out, but (true to the name of this blog) a large part was due to the lackluster showing on the free throw line- 56%. They left 14 points on the stripe. Incidentally, 14 points is what it would have taken them to push this game into overtime. Games are won and lost at the line.
UNCG is a young team, with only two seniors, and they need to find their rhythm as a unit. Granted, that is hard to do when the refs interfere with the whistle as much as they did tonight! (60 fouls!!) They started the game strong, but need to finish just as strong. That will come with time, but the team that played tonight is not ready to face the Tarheels. Not that the Heels looked exceptionally stellar in their 76-60 win over NCCU tonight.
The Spartans left the first half against the Hawks with a comfortable 44-25 lead. The first 30 seconds of the second half found Chowan scoring on a layup and a free throw and UNCG accruing two quick fouls. The fun didn’t stop there. Both sides kept getting whistled (35 fouls in the second half), but from 17:08 to 16:52- 16 seconds- UNCG got three fouls in a row- a foul every 5.3 seconds. Miller kept his cool, but there were times when arguing these whistles would have made me feel better. Every Spartan that got minutes during this game had at least two fouls: Locke- 5 (and an elbow injury); White- 4 (and concerns about both legs. He left the game limping); Saddler- 4; Byrd- 4; Dickinson- 4 (He comes to us from Loyola Marymount with Division I experience- I’d just prefer MORE points than fouls).
Overall, we were acceptable from the field (37.5% to Chowan’s 44.2%), but where we need to be in terms of free throws (77% to Chowan’s 56%). UNCG connected on 28 of 36 free throws. I know it is a new season so I will lay it out again. If you are playing college ball, 75% of free throws, minimum, should be made. This is a skill- practice it. There were 8 points left on the court. Players should be hungry for those points.
Stand out Spartans included Saddler and White. Saddler ended the night with 21 points, 5 steals, and 10 of 12 from the charity stripe (though his FT shot is still has unpolished as ever). RJ White followed with 20 points and 9 rebounds (so close to a double-double) and 5/8 FT.
Two Spartans caught my attention- senior Jamal Mitchell (#35) made 1-1 FG, 1-1 Three, and 2-2 FT. Solid numbers, but in his 12 minutes on the court he played with a calm intensity and showed good leadership and communication skills. Clay Byrd (#30), a sophomore, had his first career start today (perhaps because Baldwin didn’t play). He showed good hustle and played some smart ball, hopefully earning more playing time this season.
Basketball season has started! We face UNCW (my undergrad institution) on Tuesday at the Greensboro Coliseum. I like playing in Fleming, but I’m ready for my usual seats in Section 109!
I have been watching a lot of ball just being slack about writing about it!
Last night the Spartans played the Blue Hose (WTF?) last night. As a Spartan fan, it was a horrible showing and a boring loss. I could take time to break it down, but it’s just not worth it. Get it together- you are playing the Tar Heels on Saturday.
For the Blue Hose- there needs to be an acknowledgement of two players: #21 Jordan Downing- 37 points and 10-10 from the Free Throw line last night. If that was not a career high, OMG, it was good! and #14 hometown player Reggie Dillard. There were plenty in the crowd that came to see this former Greensboro Day School player compete. He was 11 points and 36 minutes of play for the night.
As this blog relies heavily on the view that free throws can win or loose a game:
PC was a poor 61% on the night but UNCG was 50% from the line. Not good. Games (perhaps not this one) are regularly won and lost on the line and UNCG left 8 points off the board (plus the lost points from an unfulfilled 1&1 shots) off the board. That is enough to swing momentum and take the Spartans from good to great.
UNCG just could not hold on and fell to the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers 80-87 today. The 1793 people in attendance got to see some really good basketball in the big barn today though. UNCG was up by 10 at the half and the pace of this game, from the tipoff, was blistering.
Armstrong, as usual, was set to full hustle ( I don’t think he has any other setting) and led the team in scoring today with 25 points. Rutgers coach, Mike Rice, at one point during the game expressed that the Scarlet Knights had nothing that could shut down Armstrong. I like it when he is able to frustrate other coaches (as a player coming off the bench no less!). Most notably, he went 6-7 from the free throw line. UNCG was 62.5% from the line, while the Scarlet Knights were at 84%. The Spartans missed nine free throws and lost this game by 7. This is really a place for improvement because it is the details like this that win (or lose) games.
My spotlight players for this game were Korey Van Dussen and Kelvin McNeil. They played at full tilt, making smart shots, setting up good plays, and thinking fast on their feet. This kind of leadership on the court needs to be paid attention to and rewarded. Both of these men are playing their last year of college ball and players like Locke and White can learn a lot from them.
Rutgers was able, especially in the second half, to split our defense and drive to the basket quite effectively. There needed to be more hustle from the Spartans to recognize and defend against those tactics. Wes Miller took the heat for that saying he needed to coach the Spartans to be better able to finish these close games.
The Spartans match up with cross town rivals, NC A&T, on Wednesday. Shake it off Spartans and come back strong!