Most of you were probably following the game on Gametracker, maybe even listening to it on the radio, so you might not have caught the nuance as to why the overtime period that sunk the Miners was so important. Driving the lane, quick player notes, and the Desoto Civic Center after the jump.
Overtime Sequence: What was the secret?
-Steal by Terrico White
-Eventual driveby Terrico leads to a kick out to Zach Graham for three (75-74)
-Strong driveby Chris Warren draws fifth foul on Derrick "Beast" Caracter (he winks at me as I taunt him with waves of goodbye). CW sinks both (77-74)
-Zach Graham fouled. Sinks two FT (79-75)
-CW drives and lays it in (81-75)
-Eniel Polynice makes a tough (and of course, awkward) drive to the basket and is fouled. Makes one of two (82-77)
-Chris Warren milks the clock near center court before starting to drive. Foul. Sinks two (84-79)
-UTEP hacks at will (and also get a technical foul). CW goes 5/6 and Terrico goes 2/2 to end the game (91-81)
Did you catch the answer? There was a terrible run of almost 10 minutes in the second half where the UTEP Miners got themselves back into the game and built a commanding double-digit lead. The one thing we never did during that turn around: DRIVE! Initially, I was just upset that UTEP had found a way to slow us down (like any one else who has competed with, beat or scared us this year) putting us into a half-court set where let's face it, "we suck again!" However, despite Caracter settling down and asserting himself, I realized that we just got afraid of scoring - if you don't like fear then you can go with lost. We looked lost.
We ended the game by driving to the hoop and attacking their defense, which started at the end of the second half. And that is the same way we started the game getting us out to a 12-2 lead. We cannot abandon the driving the lane, and when we do we have to do it with a purpose unafraid to draw contact.
Someone Put This Game on His Shoulders: Who was it?
Reginald Buckner and Eniel Polynice: No, it wasn't them, but they were the unsung and under-appreciated heroes of the game, with consolation going to Zach Graham. They started both halves like they had something to prove - and maybe Eniel wanted to prove that AK cannot afford to keep him chewing on rawhide bones in the backyard any more. Buck came out in the first half and was physical on D and Eniel was all over the place. What caught my eye was Buck's decision to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket twice in the first three minutes. I honestly did not think he could do it and he lost the ball a couple times later in the game, but I was more than excited to see him have an offensive spark. In those first three minutes, he had 4pts and a block, first two minutes of the second half, 3pts, including a monster dunk off an assist from Polynice. Eniel, by the way, had 2pts and 3 rebounds in the first three of the game, and 2pts and an assist in the first two of the second half.
All makes you question why they were the first two to take a rest (at the same time)? I wish the rest of our team would feed off that intensity a bit more. Oh, and Eniel still looks like the fat kid who was picked last but insists on playing point guard. It works sometimes though, so whatever. And his defense at the end of regulation was very much needed: clutch, you might say. (Though I call out UTEP for being stupid enough to go at him two possessions in a row.)
Terrico White: Yes, it was he. Ya, I know Chris Warren stepped up and drained his flurry of threes and he was crucial in those tough drives to the hoop during our comeback, but I want to give some attention to Terrico here simply because I am tired of talking about how CW shows up at the end of the game after his fancy disappearing act. Terrico hit the two most important baskets of the game. After Terrance Henry went 1/2 from the stripe and a steal from Eniel, Terrico hit a three to cut the lead to 62-70. Coming out of an Ole Miss timeout, we force a turnover and Terrico stares down his man at the top of the key before pulling up to drain another three. That was the beginning of a 14-0 run that put the Rebels up 72-70 and was capped off by Terrico going 1/2 FT after pulling down a huge board. To start the OT period, he stole the ball on the Miners first possession and eventually assisted Zach Graham's three that said, "Sorry, Miners. We're playing ball now."
DesotoCivic Center: Where are these fans every game?
I know that people look at the box score, see 2,171, and think, "that's it?" Well, I agree. I wish there were more people there, but to tell you the truth, if only 2,171 came to every home game the rest of the season, I would want it to be that group of fans. Sure, the students were spread out among the common folk - I was among a see of artificial hips - but the fans that were at our game last night got excited, they jumped on their feet, they yelled at the refs (who sucked) and they even stood for almost the entirety of the last two minutes of regulation and overtime. It was awesome! Memphians, if this is your doing, please make it to our Saturday games in the future. If you are only going to come down for one, come to the State game. I'm so sick of the Tad Pad having 5,000+ fans in a coma.
Get excited! There is a lot of work to do, but there are little things that have improved even in the last four days for our Roundball Rebels. We can be a tournament team. Hotty Toddy!