So this season is already better than last. The Deacs handled Loyola in their home opener tonight. It wasn't exactly pretty, and there were moments there (I was in attendance, mind you) where I feared we'd have a repeat of Stetson, but after Loyola tied the game at 48 in the second half, the Deacs buckled down and held them scoreless for 4 minutes and pulled away. There were things I really REALLY liked, and other things that made me want to rip my hair out, but a win's a win, and it was all a net good. More after the jump.
So first, the good:
-Our freshmen REALLY stepped up, especially Anthony Fields and Daniel Green. The three of them played a combined 61 minutes, and the fact of the matter is that aside from Chase Fischer's shooting which still was a sticking point (peculiar since that's what we brought him on for, but I have faith he'll find his legs yet) they really played solid on both ends of the floor. Green had 6 and 6, and Fields continued his lightning-quick play and pitched in 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists without a single turnover.
-Travis McKie and C.J. Harris did what they should do: lead. They had 19 and 20 respectively, and Travis had a couple of really clutch FT's (but I'm gonna have a rant about this later so hold up). Travis also had 4 rebounds, an assist, and 3 steals. CJ added in a surprising 6 rebounds,
-Tony Chennault continued his not-stellar but solid contributions with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. I really do think TC will grow steadily and be a very good 1-2 PG punch with Fields as the season goes on.
-Carson Desrosiers was an ABSOLUTE MONSTER defensively. 8 points, 10 rebounds, and a scary 8 blocks. It's clear that all the hard work in the off-season for Carson paid off. He was a force inside, especially defensively and completed a couple of plays that he wouldn't have been able to even dream of last year. Also he hit a clutch 3. Our 7 foot center hit a clutch 3. What.
-When he was actually in the game, Nikita Mescheriakov had some major minutes. 2-3 shooting (and he got to the line a lot, but couldn't convert), 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.
-Good team defense, holding Loyola to about 35% shooting on the night and a shocking 1-14 from 3. Seems like this team is going to have good perimeter D this year especially.
-49% shooting, not shabby.
-The team hustled, fought, scrapped, and absolutely did not panic when their backs were against the wall.
Now the bad:
-Basically? Free throws. As a team, the Deacs missed 24 free throws. 24. Hell, even CJ, who is usually a lock, only went 6-12. Honestly, if the boys had made their free throws like they normally do, Loyola barely would've even been in this game. The good news is we know the team is capable of making those, and at this point I'm willing to call tonight a statistical anomaly rather than a major cause for concern as the season goes on (not that they don't need to practice them like mad before Wednesday).
-We turned the ball over 16 times. Not good. Not necessarily horrendous or unheard of, especially compared to last year, but still not good. Again though, considering experience levels, I'm willing to forgive that stuff early in the year.
-We got out rebounded. This isn't as horrendous as it might seem; Loyola is a legitimately big squad and are known for their offensive rebounding, and we only got out rebounded by 6, but it was still a point of frustration at times.
-I would've liked to have seen more fast break opportunities. Part of this was that Loyola got so many dang offensive rebounds (19) that that minimized the fast break, and part of it was that Coach likes to run the half-court offense (which to be fair was positively gorgeous at points tonight), and I'm sure Coach would've opened things up a little more if he had more faith in their ability to knock down the FT's in the event of a foul, but still, it is what it is.
-Travis only had 4 rebounds. I hope he can assert himself more on the glass as the season progresses (to be fair, we know he can, it may have just been an off night for him).
-Chase Fischer is still struggling to find his range. Having said this, I'm hopeful that much of the team, not just Chase, will be able to loosen up now that they've got this win under their belts.
-Nikita fouled out in only 10 minutes of play. There were definitely some ticky-tack calls, but that's pretty horrendous.
-Again, FREE THROWS.
Bottom line, Wake gutted it out and won against a big, experienced, tough, not-exactly-pushovers Loyola squad even in the face of some adverse circumstances. The fact that they held Loyola scoreless for four minutes after they tied it late is just huge. We got contributions from a variety of sources, and we won the game solidly in the end. Hell, the fact that we got to the stripe nearly 50 times is HUGE, even if we didn't convert well, and was another positive. Overall, it's a win, and while there are definite areas of improvement, there was a lot to enjoy as well.
Oh, and student section? That was pathetic, come on now.
1 down, hopefully many to come.