Yesterday, Whiskey Wednesday and I were able to make the trip to Oxford and got to watch the Rebels take on the ETSU Buccaneers. It was Whiskey's first opportunity to see the Rebs in person this season and my fourth. I think the team is really progressing well, and I'm having to fight hard not to raise my expectations to an NCAA tournament level.
The Rebs came out on fire, jumping out to an 11-0 lead. After a back and forth first half, the lead was at 16. In the second half, the Buccaneers started shooting better and getting to the rim, leading to more fouls from the Rebels. They began relying exclusively on their zone to defend us, and it worked at first. This team though, unlike teams of old, is organized enough to break zones, and that''s just what they did. Reggie Buckner was fed the ball. Zach Graham drove the lane and put up nice pull-up jumpers. It was wonderful to see the team recognize the zone and attack it in a by-the-book manner. The Rebs adjusted and opened the lead to an insurmountable level.
If you've read any other articles about the game, you know that Reggie Buckner was incredible. Buckner is beginning to dominate in the paint on both sides of the ball. He finished with a career high sixteen points, seven blocks, six rebounds, and only two fouls (one of which was just silly). After picking up five blocks quite quickly, no ETSU player was confident when driving to the basket. It was a Varnado-like affect that I hope carries through for a large portion of the season. Buckner had four dunks, which contributed to his 8-12 shooting. He struggled from the line again, going 0-2. While that's a legitimate concern, he's playing excellent basketball right now, and to spend too much time harping on that wouldn't be reasonable.
Chris Warren was 6-12 from three and finished with 22 points. In general, the Rebels shot too many from behind the arc (28), but if you're going to be 50% from that range like Chris was, you can get away with it. Warren's only other shot came on a nifty drive to the lane where he released the ball well before any defender anticipated, and it was too late for them to react before it had reached the height of its arc. Warren was credited with six assists to only one turnover. He's quickly proving to be more than just a scorer.
Trevor Gaskins played somewhat poorly with the ball in his hands, connecting on three of his twelve attempts. That being said, he was our leading rebounder (7) and thief (3 steals). He only committed one foul and was part of the effort to get Michah WIlliams (12 ppg) to go 1-10 for the Bucs. This was one of his worse games of the season offensively, but it's obvious that Gaskins is an important player for us and has progressed a lot since last year.
On the car ride to Oxford, I was trying to describe to Whiskey what he would be witnessing. This is how I explained. "We'll start with a lineup of something like, Chris Warren, Trevor Gaskins, Nick Williams, Terrance Henry, and Reggie Buckner. About ten minutes in, a dominant Terrance Henry will get into foul trouble. At that time we will primarily switch to a four guard lineup, but Henry and Demarco Cox will rotate back onto the court at times." Well guess what happened? Terrance Henry was only able to play for 25 minutes before fouling out. During those 25 minutes, he had six boards, was 3-4 shooting, had two assists, and stole a ball. As much as I talk about Henry's problems with fouling, I'd like to point out one great thing he did last night. At one point, Warren passed him the ball to break the press. Henry only had one player between him and the basket. He essentially did a left ball-fake shoulder move that stopped the defender in his tracks, allowing Henry to quickly move right and finish the play with a dunk. The crowd went (relatively) nuts.
Nick Williams was the fifth starter but picked up two fouls in the game's first five minutes and was never able to recover from that. He finished with only eleven minutes and produced two ugly three-point attempts and two turnovers. A rough night for a player I had built up to my compatriot as a hard worker.
Zach Graham had a quiet first half before scoring double digits in the second and finishing with fourteen points. Graham used much of the first half at the perimeter and put up several ill-advised threes. He finished 1-5 from behind the arc but eventually realized that he's on the team to break the zone. Once he started doing that, ETSU had no answer. Zach's pull-up jumper was money all night.
Dundrecous Nelson, who I wanted WW to witness in person, had a rough night shooting the ball, finishin 1-7. To make up for that, he clocked six assists with only two turnovers and one foul. Arguably, Nelson's best contribution was in his on-ball defense. Nelson drew at least five fouls and was nearly totally responsible for Senior point guard Justin Tubbs' four fouls which led to only 28 minutes of play from the skilled player. Nelson likes to play up cose, in your face defense and make ball-handlers try to get around him. When he does, they often use a hand to push him off. At that time, he flies to the ground and the offensive player is whistled. I noticed that three times last night, and it may have happened more. On the other two foul-drawing plays, he was just legitimately in position to take the charge.
Demarco Cox was the only other player of note, and he had a rough night. Cox finished with three points on 1-3 shooting (1-2 FT). More than that though, he registered four fouls and only one block on defense in his eighteen minutes of playing time. When he has to play D, it's rough.
Generally, I think this team shows a lot of promise and got a solid win against a team that has been to the NCAA tournament two times in as many years and has beaten State and Dayton to begin the year. I was proud of our defense, and how well we communicated. We're still quite poor at coming down with rebounds, but I think we're just going to have to accept that based on how few skilled big men we have on roster right now. All-in-all, it was nice to see us play a decent team and win by 21 despite one of our starters playing only eleven minutes.