Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Jackets Get first road win

Well, I just got back from the game and a great one it was..... well at least the 2nd half. The first half was about as ugly as it gets, but I have to say that the Jackets played maybe their most inspired half of hoops this season. Some comments:

1. The best defensive team won this game. The Jackets really clamped down in the 2nd half, limiting Clemson to 27 points in the 2nd half. They forced really tough shots and were very physical. Clemson did shoot 44% for the game, but only 23% from long distance. I was impressed by the team effort in the 2nd half. One area that was particularly impressive was the defense on their leading scorer S.Ford. They basically collapsed on him in a triangle. Luke in front ready to swat away a shot, Smith and a guard tripling on the lookout for a dribble drive. He was totally frustrated all night. In fact late in the game, he was REALLY frustrated, wouldn't participate in the huddle. When his mates tried to put their hand on his shoulder he pulled away. Purnell and one of his assistants went over to him on the bench and gave him an encouraging "slap" to the back of the head. Obviously he was taken completely out of the game mentally as well.

2. While the 2nd half might have been our best half of hoops, the first was probably our worst of the season. A total of 14 turnovers and we went one stretch with 6 straight turnovers. J.Jack ended the night with 7 turnovers. And we are talking ugly. Terrible passes, miscommunication, forcing the ball in traffic, mis-handling the ball, you name it. It was uglier in person than on TV I gaurantee. I sat there is amazement.

3. Offense. The Jackets shot 57% for the game. That's a shocker considering the first half, but not really when you think about it. When you turn the ball over 14 times, you're not even getting shots up to miss. For the night the Jackets take a total of 45 shots, while Clemson takes 59. The Jackets outscore Clemson by 16 points in the 2nd half. Impressive. Interestingly, I was with a Clemson guy, and after watching the halftime warmups, I told him to watch out - that we were going to play a different game this half. In warm-ups I saw about 15 shots in a row swish from the outside. I just felt it was a good omen....... Another positive note - there were 5 players in double figures. Good balance.

4. Rebounding. The Jackets win the battle of the boards 32 to 29. However there were repeated offensive boards the Tigers grabbed in the first half that were based on pure hustle. Interestingly, S.Ford grabbed ZERO rebounds, only the 2nd time in his career that has happened. Luke did a fantastic job on him.

5. BJ Elder was back. In the first half, he was less than impressive. He appeared hesitant with the ball. I guess that's to be expected. But he led the team in the key 2nd half stretch that put us ahead. He drained the 3-pointer that put us ahead for good. And man, his little 3 shot display was impressive. An off-balance jumper at the top of the lane, the go-ahead 3pointer, and a nice dribble drive to the hoop for 2. Did he make the difference tonight? Yeah, he really did. Those shots at the end were the material of senior leaders.

6. The surprise of the night - Jeremis Smith played. I got a good picture of him waiting to go in for the first time since November. While Smith didn't light up the score-board, he wasn't doing that early in the season either. What he provides is toughness underneath. And it was clear he is a physical presence. He was a welcome addition to the team again. Now, in case you are curious, the medical redshirt rules evidently state that you cannot play in more than 20% of your team's games. So I think he could technically play one or two more and still redshirt if the knee is not back. But clearly his presence is needed. I see him giving us T-Mac kind of minutes. He will play solid, not make a lot of mistakes, grab some boards, maybe block a shot or two and be physical with the opposition....... Now, he did not seem to be 100%.

7. Playing time. The return of Elder shook up the PT situation. Fredrick didn't play, Tarver only played 3 minutes, Dickey 6, and suprisingly Morrow only 2. Morrow never took a shot. I just cannot see coach keeping Dickey and Morrow off the floor in upcoming games. They have shown too much offensive potential, but of course we know that how you defend your position defines your minutes. Mario West plays 13 minutes and just continues to impress me with his hustle and effort. He just seems to be "getting it" now. The last few games he is not wrecklessly throwing his body around, making dumb fouls, etc. He is in control, but hustling his rear end off. Let's remember, this is a walk-on in hoops starting to come into his own. How far can he take his game? Will be interesting to watch. Elder gets 20 minutes and J-Smith 15.

8. Clemson fans. I have to say again - Clemson fans host a nice game. They are a nice group - didn't hear one profane word. They cheer on their team well. The got emotional when they needed to, but just an outstanding group yet again. One of the best fan groups in the ACC.

9. GT fans. GT was fairly well represented, although not so much with gold around the arena. The section behind the bench up to the rafters represented well. Near the end of the game, when it was clear we would win, a cheer of "Yellow"........."Jackets"..........."Yellow".........."Jackets", started. It got pretty dang loud. Clemson fans were stunned for a split second until they started a cheer of their own and quickly drowned us out. That was fun - a nice school spirit rivalry.

10. Officiating. No doubt the Clemson fans will be up-in-arms about the reffing tonight. You know what? They missed some calls........ on both sides. It was a very physical game. Can't tell you how many times Luke was getting mugged on the inside with no call. And Elder mugged the CU guy at the end getting the steal with no call. Really just another example of poor officiating for both teams.

11. One parting thought. We just won a road game after turning the ball over 24 times. Think about that one. Just thank Clemson for turning it over 21 times to virtually nullify our mistakes. The chemistry is not back yet, but this team found a way to suck it up and win in the closing minutes. They closed out. That is something they have not shown an ability to do. Is it BJ Elder? J-Smith? Just confidence? I don't know, but you cannot underestimate the power of a confident team with all the players healthy and on the floor. Expect some ups-and-downs to end the season, but could this be the start of another Paul Hewitt late season run? It sure is a great way to start.