The Pack played at Saint Mary’s on Friday, and got quite the reality check on their egos. To be honest though, that’s probably a good thing. The game certainly didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but let’s break down the pros and cons of such a harsh loss.
As per usual, I’ll start with the bad and then go up from there. The Pack traveled to Saint Mary’s on Friday, and got beat 81-63, which is a considerable margin, especially considering the betting line was Saint Mary’s by 10. This game consisted of a bunch of rookie errors on our part, specifically travels, goal tending, and an excess of fouls, a lot of which were sloppy and pointless. Cam Oliver missed a good portion of the first half due to foul trouble, and you could tell that the team was struggling without him. Marcus Marshall tried to take his place, but fell completely flat in the first half. Oliver ended up fouling out, and Elijah Foster and DJ Fenner ended the game with four fouls each.
Fouls weren’t the only thing that was getting this team in trouble, another big one was the inability to make free throws, something that will have to improved if this team wants to go far. They hit only 58.3%, and as we all know, missed free throws sometimes make all the difference.
The biggest issue I’d say we had on Friday was the complete and utter lack of a defensive plan. Sure, there were a few times when it looked like they had it together, but in a forty minute game, those times lasted about a total of five minutes. And the Pack’s ability to play smart defensive made this game even more frustrating, because they just weren’t. It’s one thing to see a bad team or a poorly coached team play like this, it’s an entirely different thing to know your team is entirely capable of playing with a high level of basketball intelligence, and just isn’t! Don’t get me wrong, Cameron Oliver had some absolutely beautiful swats, and Fenner had a great block too. But this team has got to get into a defensive sync. Saint Mary’s is a great team, perhaps the hardest team we’ll play all season. And giant props go to Jock Landale, who was utterly unstoppable. However, I lost count of how many times I watched the Pack let the Gaels run the ball right by them for an uncontested layup. It also didn’t help that we got outscored in the paint 56 to 20. Ouch.
You might not think that there are a lot of pros to loosing a game by 18 points, especially when it’s your season opener. But I personally think this game was a great teaching lesson (and I’m assuming that was Musselman’s plan all along). First off, I think this game was probably a well-needed ego check for the Pack. They’ve been getting rave reviews all off-season, and I think it was time they be put back in their place a little bit. And the very beginning of the season is a great time to do that. Secondly, this game saw some amazing performances from a good number of players.
After a lack luster appearance in the exhibition game, and a virtually silent first half from him, I was really starting to worry about Marcus Marshall’s abilities. However, all of that was put to rest in the second half when he decided to dominate. Scoring only four points in the first half, Marshall scored 21 points the second half. All in all, he was 5 of 6 on free throws, made four three-pointers, and led the team in scoring with 25 points. I was impressed.
Secondly, it seems that this may be Elijah Foster’s break out season. I’ve never been overly impressed with him, but this season he seems to be stronger, and more importantly, his confidence has grown a lot. Foster can now command the ball, where he seemed to previously prefer to pass the ball off. He only had four points in Friday’s game, partially to do with foul trouble, but he was definitely a presence.
Let’s talk about Jordan Caroline, because he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. This man can rebound, and better yet, he can draw the fouls. The downside to this is that he hasn’t shown that he’s a very good free throw shooter, making only 5 of 12 in Friday’s game. However, he led the team with eight rebounds, and showed that he can definitely get himself to the line. He plays hard, focused, and maybe a little gritty. Might he be our new ‘junk yard dog’? God knows we could use one after getting used to Tyron Criswell’s performances.
And, last but not least, DJ Fenner. We all know that I have a soft spot for Fenner, but I really feel that, as the only fourth year senior, he knows this team and he leads this team. He’s seen a lot of changes in his college career, and I think that strengthens his game. He’s subtle a lot of the time, but seems to consistently show up when he’s needed the most. He’s not the best player on this team, but he’s the back-bone of it. And, yeah, he added 12 points and two assists, not too shabby.
**I haven’t praised Cameron Oliver much this season yet, but I assure you, that will come. Cameron Oliver is a phenomenal player who is definitely destined for greatness. He added 13 points, four rebounds, five blocks, two assists, and one steal on Friday. Which is damn impressive. But Cam is capable of so much more, and I want to see him catch absolute fire before I praise him too much. That’s the curse of greatness I suppose.
• Next Up:
Tonight the Pack plays Loyola Marymount at our very own Lawlor Events Center. Tip off is at 7, and if you can’t make it, Ryan Radke will be on 94.5 FM. It also appears that the game will be streaming on the Mountain West Network, but don’t hold me to that. The Lions absolutely crushed Vanguard on Friday, but they went 14 and 17 overall last season, and 6 and 12 in conference play. The Pack still has to show up if they want to compete against this team, but hopefully it won’t be nearly as hard as Friday’s game was. The betting line has the Pack by nine, and Chris Murray has them winning by 12, so things look good.
• An Afterthought:
I don’t have a great one today, but the coaching dynamic on Friday did have me thinking. A lot of us Pack fans still aren’t used to seeing Coach Rice on our bench, although we can all agree that he looks much better in blue than red (who doesn’t?) I really appreciated his post game interview. He didn’t make excuses for how the Pack played, and that sent a strong message. It was also a little strange seeing Carter on the bench for Saint Mary’s. I had to wonder if that was awkward for anybody, especially Fenner and Foster who have played for both coaches. I’m sure it wasn’t terrible for anyone, but it definitely had me curious.