We recapped the game on Friday, a close, entertaining game in which the Techsters came out on top. On Saturday, the Mean Green won, 55-53, in another entertaining game. After NT jumped out into a big lead, Tech came back and made it a game. NT was down 46-43 with 9:55 in the second half remanning, and you might have also briefly considered that all was lost.
Javion Hamlet did not play well, going 2/6 from the field, with no free throws and four turnovers and five fouls. NT did not need 75 points to win this, (thankfully) and got nice efforts from James Reese (12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), and Mardrez McBride (8 points, 2 rebounds), and Rubin Jones running the point and playing the four (8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals).
In the preview, we wrote that getting a split against good team with a good inside presence (Lofton and Gordon) would be an accomplishment. NT played well in stretches over two games, and found the limits of their ability to knock down shots in others. Defensively, they were tested with Kenneth Lofton Jr, bulldozing his way for buckets and Isaiah Crawford doing the same in the first game. There was less of that in the second matchup, as NT adjusted their defense to help later in the one-on-one possessions. Thomas Bell got a block on Lofton late that was huge.
Louisiana Tech is going to be in the league tournament and they will be a tough out for anyone. That NT was able to manufacture a win through some grit and grind, while they got absolute garbage from Hamlet and Bell is a good thing. The top of the conference plays good defense and that means they know what Hamlet wants to do and will try like hell to take it away from him. Same with Simmons. Tech entered the weekend as the top defensive squad and (thanks to NT) have fallen to second behind UAB. You might remember that the NT vs UAB weekend was postponed. This was just about the first real test NT has had this season in league play whereas Tech had played Marshall, and WKU.
NT will get their chance coming up. Next week the Mean Green play Southern Miss, a talented squad that has the full ability to jump up and bite you, but one that is not ready to challenge the top of the league just yet. After that it is WKU, followed by Marshall. If NT comes out of all of that unscathed, or reasonably contending for the top of the division, we likely will see the Blazers and NT play out their series in the final week.
The point is that things only get tougher from here and that is good. Watching NT beat up on lower-division teams is fun, but it is only fun with meaning. Southern Miss absolutely need to be handled quickly and efficiently. Good teams do that — UAB let Middle hang around but then dispatched them appropriately. Rice, a team that NT dominated, blew out USM twice this weekend. Marshall blew a big lead to ODU (another team NT was supposed to face) and then blew them out in the second meeting.
What We Would Like To See
- Make some shots
NT had a few nice looks but could not knock them down in both games.
- Get some variety on offense
Related to the above, NT got stagnant trying to post Simmons too often. They either didn’t let the pass go, or spent time trying to make it work. The execution needs to be quicker, and/or there needs to be some alternatives. Post Zach, if that does not work, immediately have him come up to run a pick and roll or something.
- More James Reese
James is ballin right now. He was unafraid to shoot and knocking things down. As we tweeted, he was also attacking the rim — his steal+bucket game right now is creating easy looks and I like it a lot.
- More Abou Ousmane
He was a presence in this game. He had the nice post moves but more impressive was his ability to defend and be big without fouling. That bodes well for the future of the program, obviously, but also for the title run this season.