I have to give credit to Southern Illinois. They are a team that is returning to its tough defensive roots. We needed to face a team like them because we haven't had to face a big, physical team yet. We're going to have to bang in the Big Ten like we did tonight, so the first half was definitely a learning experience. We played about the worst half of basketball that we have played all season, yet we still led by eight at the break.
Even in struggling, we found our go moment. D.J. Byrd's 3-pointer that gave us the lead we would not relinquish. Up to that point I felt like we had taken Southern Illinois' best shot. Once the shot fell, it seemed to loosen everyone up. It definitely changed the timbre of the game. For SIU, they knew that despite their best efforts, we were pulling ahead. For us, it signaled we had overcome a difficult challenge and we had figured out how to succeed. From that point forward, the game was only details.
Oh yeah, and it was a showcase that E'Twaun Moore is a very, very good player and much more worthy of an All-America mention than a guy <cough> Harrison Barnes <cough> who hadn't played a second of college basketball in his career.
Positives From the Southern Illinois Game
The Red Button - I made a comment during the Open Thread that E'Twaun had that Red Button look in his eye during the second half. Once he got it going he left a trail of bodies in his wake. Now he has a new career high (31) as he thoroughly dismantled a tough defense. He went a perfect 9 for 9 after starting the game 1 of 9 from the field. Southern Illinois, you have been Red Buttoned.
Free Throws - We needed a performance like this where we worked to get to the line when we weren't hitting anything from the field. It reminded me of the Illinois game at home last year when Robbie Hummel was struggling to a 4 of 13 night from the field. Instead of forcing things he worked his way to the line where he was 12 of 12. Of course, that was the last game before a certain ill-fated trip to the Barn. 80% is an excellent number from the line, and a number that will allow us to have a lot of extra breathing room in games. Even LewJack was 2 of 2 at the line.
Terone Johnson - Tonight proved that TJ doesn't need a ton of points in order to greatly affect the game. An example was his falling down steal and assist to E'Twaun on a fast break. It wasn't a pretty play, but it was a great hustle play by a kid that is going to play valuable minutes later on. He also is learning how to drive to the basket and draw contact so he can do damage from the line. Mark it down: TJ will have a 25 point game at some point this season. He is the Apprentice, and E'Twaun is The Master
D.J. Byrd - D.J. might be emerging as our best option at the four. Even though he is undersized there, Patrick bade was invisible and doesn't have his hard-nosed edge. What Byrd lacks in size he makes up for in hustle. He is 6'5", so it is not as bad as last year when Chris Kramer was playing Colton Iverson in the Game That Shall Not be Mentioned. I think he can do it, and he gives us more of a scoring option than Bade. In fact, his ability to hit the open three can make him, dare I say, Hummel-esque. No one is going to replace Robbie exactly. If we can get elements of it, such as 3-point shooting and hustle boards from Byrd, it will help a lot.
Kelsey Barlow - Do you think the light went on a bit for Kelsey tonight? I know he did most of his damage late against a beaten down team with a big lead, but for the first few times he recognized that he can score the ball if he wants to. He showed some range with his first career 3-pointer. Both of his boards were offensive rebounds. That comes from hustle and not giving up on the play. That's the kind of GDB we need.
Negatives from the Southern Illinois game:
Travis Carroll, Patrick Bade, and Sandi Marcius - We cannot have a game where they combine for no shot attempts, five rebounds, and three fouls. They have regressed a bit, especially on offense. Part of it comes from the fact that we had no usual offensive flow tonight. We've got to get more out of them. We don't need a lot, especially when JJ's conditioning is top notch right now.
John Hart - Hart is a guy that gets his offense when it comes in the flow of the game. Therefore, it is no coincidence that he was averaging double figured in games where we have 20 assists or so, but tonight when we only had eight assists he was shut out. He had some good minutes, but when the offense is as disjointed as it was tonight, especially in the first half, he disappears.
Assists - After leading the nation in assists coming in we were thrown off greatly. In fact, I would argue that we would have been in serious trouble if E'Twaun had not been creating his own shot in the second half and JJ wasn't doing his thing. We can get away with it in games like this, but to have success against tougher opponents we must return to the smooth flow we had in the first four games.
A quick look at Richmond:
Tomorrow is a very busy day, so here is your quick look at the Richmond Spiders for the championship game. They were an NCAA Tournament team a year ago that lost to eventual Sweet 16 team St. Mary's. They return Kevin Anderson, who is the reigning Atlantic-10 Player of the Year. This is not like Keith Benson being the best player in the Summit League. The Atlantic-10 is a multi-bid league that has some very good basketball teams. Rhode Island, Temple, Dayton, Xavier, and Massachusetts are all threats to make the NCAA Tournament.
Richmond is a high scoring team, ranking fifth in field goal percentage nationally at 54%. They don't rebound well, but they share the ball and run the Princeton offense very well. We have struggled against the Princeton offense in conference play against Northwestern, so this could be a tough challenge. We must be patient defensively and watch the backdoor cuts. Justin Harper, Dan Geriot, Cedrick Lindey, and Darien Brothers are their leading scorers. They aren't afraid to shoot the three, and Harper is better than 50% from long range.
Here is the full statistical breakdown. This is the best team we have faced so far and possibly will be the second best we will face outside of the conference. We have to be sharp, but this is a game that we can bank as a quality win for later.