It was nice to watch the second half of today's basketball game. I didn't have to worry about injuries or poor play. The game was well in hand thanks to a 22-7 closing kick to the first half. We got to play everyone on the roster and there were few mistakes. Basically, it was the complete opposite of any football game this season.
We all knew this would likely be a win over Howard. The Bisons have had seven straight seasons of at least 20 losses and we handled most of the game without much from JJ and E'Twaun. In fact, we probably would have won if they had not played at all. It was the kind of game I hopw to see a lot of in what I think is the perfect non-conference schedule. Everyone got a chance to contribute and we got to work on things for bigger games down the road. Travis Carroll, Terone Johnson, and Sandi Marcius each debuted and will gain valuable reps in these types of these games. Everyone else will learn their roles while JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore will continue to be there when we need them.
We had stifling defense today that held Howard to sub 25% shooting. We shot the 3-ball very well and moved the ball around on offense with precision. There was little stagnation to the offense; a hallmark of the post-Robbie era last year. Everyone was a threat to do something on the offensive end of the floor, and we will only get better. These are all things that will mean a lot of victories if they continue. We were one of the last teams to debut this year, but the wait was worth it.
Positives from today's game:
3-point shooting - The biggest factor to our success will not be what JJ and E'Twaun do. We're going to get regular games like we saw today from JJ and E'Twaun is going to be the silky smooth Assassin we have come to know and love. This will happen regardless of opponent. That means everyone else will get good looks at the basket as long as they are on the floor. If they can knock those shots down as they did today, we're going to be just as dangerous as we were at any point last year.
Terone Johnson, Ryne Smith, D.J. Byrd, and John Hart each hit threes. Kelsey Barlow and Lewis Jackson attempted threes. They need to not have any fear at pulling the trigger, and combined they were 11 of 22 from long range. It will probably be someone different in each game, but as long as someone can be a reliable third and fourth option we will be fine.
That is why I love our depth. You just don't know who it is going to be. The Hart game at Illinois last year was the perfect example of someone stepping up when we needed it. In the NCAA's it was Byrd. At time TJ is going to have an explosive game. It's going to keep teams guessing.
Defensive Intensity - Again, it was only Howard, but we played some nasty defense today. Everyone was getting up on people. JJ had them officially terrified to venture into the post. Marcius and Carroll were tough on the glass and will learn to be great RRD guys. Everyone has bought into this defensive philosophy, and it will only make things easier. As I said many times last year, it you can hold a team to 50 or less that makes your job on offense a lot easier.
Rebounding - I don't think we had a 45-31 rebounding edge over anyone in the past five years. Carroll in particular impressed me with his ability to crash the glass. Patrick Bade and Barlow were very active, especially on the offensive glass. Someone lit a fire under Barlow. He has the size and athleticism to sweep in and clean up the offensive glass if he wants to. I think we'll see at least two rebound dunks from GDB this year.
Kelsey Barlow - Speaking of GDB, when someone lights a fire under his ass he can be a force of nature. The stretch int he second half where he had the highlight-reel assists to E'Twaun for the dunk, a dunk himself, and a great effort play to get on the glass was the best we have seen him play.
John Hart and D.J. Byrd - I know a couple of their threes were late, but they were still open shots the guys were able to knock down. That will only give them confidence for the future.
Negatives from today's game:
Free Throws - This is only because I am a stickler, but I want 75% from the line. There is no excuse for not reaching that because they are free. Maybe I feel this way because free throws are the only consistent part of my game. Since they can't use my 85% shooting from the line we'll have to get someone else to do it.
We should expect more of the same over the next few weeks. Alcorn State, Oakland, and Autin Peay should not be threats. Oakland was a tournament team a year ago and could give us a run, but they were also dispatched with ease. Alcorn State is easily one of the worst division I teams in the country.
Still, the opportunity is there to learn, and you can bet coach Painter will be teaching and tinkering with his lineups. Terone Johnson is an underrated player that will be an all-Big Ten player before he leaves Purdue. We have enough versatility to spread Robbie's scoring around, and the size to take care of his rebounding. With 15 assists on 25 baskets we're sharing the basketball the way it needs to be shared.
This team is going to be just fine, and those that projected a 5 seed or worse for us will be writing articles on January 1 about the fantastic job Painter has done when we're still undefeated going into Big Ten play. We have needed this as fans with the football team struggling. I expect we're going to unleash holy hell on every single person that doubted us.