One Man to Beat and I had the pleasure of attending last night's game, and we came away impressed. In short, it was a must win that the Rebels won. The victory puts the Rebels (14-4, 2-2) back on the right track.
Apparently some people are upset with this victory. I don't know why. Sure, we let South Carolina back into the game during the second half, but what did you expect? Did our fans think that our fifteen point halftime lead would balloon to 30? That won't happen with Devan Downey at the point.
This leads me to the first of my talking points. I was really pleased with the way we handled Downey. For several stretches, Eniel Polynice in particular was able to remove Downey from the game. Sure, Devan was able to score 25 points, but ten of those came at the charity stripe due to poor fouls by our big men down low. Downey had trouble getting open looks at the basket all night, and the shots that did fall for Downey (7-20) were often just miraculously willed to the hoop. On several of his makes, I found myself saying, "We should give players shots like those all day."
This game was the first all season that saw the Rebels primarily stick to a five man line-up. Our bench produced 46 total minutes of breathing time for the starters. That's not that much. In fact, of the starters only Zach Graham played for fewer than thirty one minutes. Speaking of starters and Zach Graham, I was absolutely shocked with the starting lineup yesterday. In case you missed it, the first five players we put on the floor were: Chris Warren, Terrico White, Zach Graham, Eniel Polynice, and Murphy Holloway. Yeah. No player taller than 6'6". It was really interesting, and it worked very well against South Carolina. The Gamecocks lack a significant big man, so we were effective with the small line-up.
Chris Warren's first half was perhaps his best half as a Rebel in terms of ball distribution and getting the offense flowing. There were at least two alley-oops thrown up by Warren that made the crowd go nuts. Generally, when he was able to dribble-penetrate, he kicked the ball back out to an open Rebel, but even when he didn't, he had good shot selection and visibly outplayed Devan Downey's attempts at defense. Good job Chris. Now put it together for two halves.
Of course I'd be remiss not to discuss Murphy Holloway's performance. Holloway was all over the court against the homestate school that barely pursued him, tallying fourteen points and twelve rebounds. More than that though, he dominated inside, with several dunks and a particularly nasty series of
uncalled fouls offensive rebound putbacks in which Holloway would not be denied.
Eniel Polynice was quite efficient, finsihing 5-9 with three steals and a few solid drives that really kept our momentum. Terrico White was not as uninvolved as usual, but he was unable to capitalize off of getting ahold of the ball a good bit. However, there was one play when I noticed that Terrico would flourish with a few solid offensive big men. On this particular play, he drove to the basket, drawing three defenders on the way. He jumped into the air as if he were going to attempt an acrobatic layup but at the last second hurled a quick pass to Deaundre Cranston under the basket. unfortunately, Cranston was as captivated with Terrico as the Gamecock players and watched the ball hit his eye. If there was a pun in that last sentence, it was unintentional. I promise.
Anyway, I was very satisfied with teh victory. Don't forget that this South Carolina team also sits at 2-2 in the SEC. They're no slouch. This win was really important for the team, and I think that you have to be happy that we handled our business at home. The next three games on our schedule should favor the Rebels as they travel to Baton Rouge and Auburn before meeting John Pelphrey's Arkansas squad in Oxford on the 30th. Get tickets to that game if you're within a three hour radius of Oxford. It should be a good one, and the Rebels could walk out of that game 5-2 in the conference. Of course, on February 2nd, the Rounball Rebs head to Rupp Arena for a wake-up call, but that's to be expected.
Thoughts on last night's game or the season ahead?