Wow. I loved the game we played last night.
Last night, we shot high percentage shots, and it showed. We won't lose to many teams if we shoot 57% from the field. The Rebels dominated in the paint, so shot selection was simple. Reggie Buckner and Terrance Henry were exceptional, but I'll get to that. Overall, I feel like our team played the way we should. No one was afraid to pass (except Eniel Polynice), and we weren't committed to shooting the ball with 25 seconds left on the shot clock.
We played patient, fundamental basketball, and Auburn couldn't answer. Sure, we had trouble defending the perimeter at the beginning of the game, but Auburn made 11 three-pointers in the game, and eight of those came in the first half. Our second-half adjustments took away the three ball, and Auburn was ruined. It helps that they missed a few shots that they probably should have made, but that's what happens when you play a team with less talent than you have.
This win, I think, was important. Of course, every game is important from here on out, other than perhaps the Kentucky game next week. We need to fight hard to overtake State for the West crown. For those of you not paying attention, MSU lost to Arkansas last night, which brings our records the same in SEC play. State has the tie-breaker right now, but it's still really early. We're doing what we need to do in order to win the West.
Read my player-by-player talking points after the jump.
The Terrance Henry show was awesome to watch. Sure, Henry only scored nine points, but he also came down with ten rebounds and always appeared to be in the right place on defense. His two blocks ended promising Auburn possessions, and he only committed three fouls, one of which was a horrible call. Henry drew the start and played for 30 minutes. Interesting note: among the incredible broadcasting debacle we watched last night, one thing stuck out to me. "Henry.... attempts a three pointer? It went in! Wow. I don't think Auburn expected him to be able to shoot from out there." For our readers who haven't been paying attention, Terrance Henry is 14/21 from 3 this season. That's 66.7% from beyond the arc for anyone who can't do basic math. Thanks for glancing at interesting stats before calling the game, announcers. Henry's the leading candidate for Most Improved Rebel, and it's not really very close. Henry is giving Andy Kennedy reasons to believe that the lack of a post presence early on this season was really just a lack of minutes for Terrance.
Henry's "bash brother", Reginald Buckner, was also a strong presence down low. Buckner is getting significantly more adept on offense, going strong to the hole and making shots he missed earlier in the year. Buckner was 3-5 last night and knocked down both of his free throws. Interesting stat, two weeks ago, if you took Buckner and Holloway out of our lineup, we led the SEC in free throw percentage. I know. Hard to believe. Anyway, Buckner was as strong on defense as Henry, and he was rewarded with 24 minutes. Unfortunately, late in the game, but in a time when the lead was still in question, Buckner jumped roughly 30 feet in the air, then landed strangely on his ankle. He was helped off the court and is probably nursing a really bad ankle injury. Hopefully, he'll stay off of it and only miss our next two games. We need him back in the lineup down the stretch. By the way, as David pointed out in the open thread last night, Buck is only two blocks away from tying the freshman record. I guess he'll probably get that, considering that he's averaging 2.2 blocks per game.
DeAundre Cranstonwas used in exactly the way we should use him. Cranston played for 15 minutes, going 3-4 for six points. He had one block and only picked up one foul. I'm elated that Kennedy finally played him as a role player, even though he started. When we play smaller, quicker lineups, there's no reason to play Cranston for more than 15 minutes. The big guy really played well, and he was able to muscle his way into the paint for a few easy shots. Really good performance from a guy who catches way too much flak from our fans.
In the first half, two players really upset me. Eniel Polynice and Terrico Whiteboth left me puzzled early on. I'll get to Terrico soon enough, but Eniel Polynice appeared to regress from his recent transformation into a slasher who passes to wide open Rebels once the defense has collapsed. It's no wonder that the Rebels pulled away from Auburn late, as four of Polynice's five assists came with five minutes or fewer remaining in the game. Polynice went to the basket with much more authority against Auburn than he has all season, and he was able to score with his finger rolls that he has often missed so far this season. Auburn still managed to force four turnovers against Eniel, and that's something he needs to work on if he plans to function like a primary ball handler. Polynice appears to be struggling with that more this year than in years past, and I hope it's something he can overcome. He has always looked like a turnover-prone player, but the thing is that he hasn'tturned it over that much in the past. He's averaging 2.9 turnovers a game this season, and that number has to go down. Also, Eniel can't continue leaving the man he's guarding on the perimeter to try to help down low when there are already three people there to stop the play who's driving.
Early season MVP Zach Graham has turned invisible for the past few games. Despite playing 16 minutes last night, Graham barely touched the ball on offense, and I don't recall particularly good defense on his part. For a player that's fighting with Polynice for playing time, he has to do something with his minutes. As I just said, Polynice has his weaknesses, but he's pivotal to our offense. Graham can't contend by standing by and watching other players make plays.
Neither Trevor Gaskins nor Murphy Hollowaydid much, so I'm not going to spend time talking about them. Gaskins, don't shoot threes from five feet beyond the arc if you can't make uncontested threes from the line. Murphy, you were supposed to have a huge game against Auburn due to their size, but Kennedy only played you for nine minutes. Perhaps that was an effort to keep you rested to play a significant role against Arkansas on Saturday, but it may just be because you're not doing anything with the minutes he's giving you right now.
Terrico White's first made basket came with three minutes left in the first half. He finished the game with 19 points. I just don't understand why he can't get more involved with the offense in the first half. Terrico isn't a particularly strong defender, so he has to make an impact on offense. He's a physical shooter, but that type of player is nearly worthless if he isn't driving the lane or taking pull-up jumpers.
Chris Warren, on the other hand, was dynamic in both halves. Warren came out firing, and he was prepared. Several times early, Chris kept us in the game by answering with three balls. In 34 minutes, he turned the ball over only once, and he grabbed 4 rebounds, at least two of which were actually in the paint. Warren scored 20 points and was our response to Auburn's Tay Waller, who went 5-11 from three point range and was on fire early. Warren finished 4-7 from three, which is obviously much better than 5-11.
In terms of what Auburn brought against us, I think that there were a lot of positives for their team as well. Obviously, Waller was unstoppable for a while, but even when he cooled off, the Tigers stayed in the game because of G DeWayne Reed, who was able to draw fouls, make free throws, and dish out assists. Waller and Reed are both seniors, so if they want to make a splash, they need to do it now. It's certainly too late for an NCAA berth, but if Auburn can heat up, they could turn around their 10-11 (1-5) SEC record and make noise in the SEC tournament, possibly earning an NIT bid.
So that's that. If you missed the game or just want to see highlights again, you can watch them on our new nifty SEC Video Player to the right of this post and a little bit down the page. They get highlights up very quickly.
Lastly, it's rare that announcers are so poor that they call us the "Running Rebels". I mean, I guess it's fitting based on our style of play, but it's obvious that they confused our nickname with UNLV's. Honestly, why didn't they just let the students do some legitimate announcing. They probably know more about our team than a Colgate grad.e Re