Last night, the Rebels took on the Murray State Racers in the first of a four game stretch of relevant non-conference opponents. It was an important game for the Rebs, and they were able to come away with a big victory over a team that had been receiving votes in the top 25 poll. This game should be a significant RPI boost if the Rebels are in the NCAA tournament discussion in March. But let's get down to the game.
Zach Graham was a monster last night, and I was really happy to see him get the ball and make things happen. Graham didn't sit around and throw the ball around the permiter, only to see an ill-advised three thrown up by a teammate. When he got the ball, he generally took it to the hoop, and Murray State had no answer. Graham drew four fouls and was 7-7 on free throws. He scored a career high 22 points, came down with four boards, blocked a shot, and logged two steals. He was all over the court on offense and defense and really displayed some of the fight that fans love to see from him.
It's a little early to tell whether Nick Williams will be a major scorer for this team or not, but he certainly has the capacity to do that. Last night, Williams scored 21 points on 7-10 shooting and 5-5 from the free throw line. Williams had six rebounds (3 offensive and 3 defensive), logged an assist, and had a nice steal that he got from the strong press the Rebels threw at the Racers all night. Williams played more minutes than any other player and was very impressive on both ends of the court.
Chris Warren struggled early in this game and never really unleashed the offensive dynamo Rebel fans expected. I wouldn't read too much into this. Warren finished with a respectable ten points, and we all know what he's capable of producing. More than anything, it was encouraging to see us rout a quality opponent on a night where Warren struggled with his shot and turned the ball over six times. A side note, in Warren's defense, several of his turnovers appeared to simply be miscommunication. He threw two passes out of bounds in situations where I thought the player on the receiving end of the pass should have been going where Warren threw it.
Reggie Buckner dominated down low and really made it tough for Murray State to get anything going. Buckner took two charges, blocked three shots, scored eight points, and had five rebounds in twenty-four minutes of play. He did get into minor foul trouble (the story of our bigs this year I'm afraid), but he did a lot with his minutes on the floor.
On the other hand, Terrance Henry, who tossed two alley-oops to Buckner, wasn't on the court enough to make much difference in the game. He came out on fire and was involved in the first six points of the game. Then he quickly got into foul trouble and finished with only eleven minutes of playing time. We can't continue to allow a player with the ability of Terrance Henry to watch games from the bench.
The bench player with whom I was most satisfied was Steadman Short. Short played for 23 minutes, scored four points on 2-3 shooting, brought down six rebounds, and was credited with two assists. Trevor Gaskins was alright (though Kennedy screamed at him for shooting a three when everyone under the dome wanted Warren to extend his streak of consecutive games with a three). He still suffers from the desire to put up any shot he sees. The rest of the bench was mediocre last night. It's early, but the freshmen have been unimpressive so far.