One hears the term "trap game" often in football, but it can apply to basketball as well. And the Red Raiders may just have avoided one in defeating Mount Saint Mary's 100-69 before a home crowd of 4,800 on New Year's Eve eve.
The Red Raiders were coming off a dispiriting loss at Arizona State, were a campus afterthought on a night when the football team was playing in the Holiday Bowl, and what's worse, were playing an obscure but potentially dangerous team in Mount Saint Mary's. The Goin' Band wasn't in the USA, neither were the students, and the few fans who showed up didn't make much noise. These were the makings of a small disaster for Tubby Smith's crew.
But no fear--the Red Raiders, after a bit of a slow start, played a splendid opening half and steamrolled the visitors from Maryland.
That slow start saw Tech trail until Toddrick Gotcher hit a layup with 17:32 remaining in the first half. Then it was off to the races. With 15:25 to play, Jordan Tolbert threw down a dunk to give the Red Raiders their first double-digit lead. Seven and a half minutes later, a Dejan Kravic jumper pushed that lead to 21 points. At halftime, Tech led by 25 and had held the Mountaineers to only 20 points. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Bear in mind that this same MSM team, in their last outing, led Penn State by nine points at halftime in State College, and still led by a deuce with 6:51 remaining.
The Red Raiders won this game by doing certain things well that they had been doing poorly. Namely, Tech played solid perimeter defense and shot the ball well from deep.
In the first half, the Red Raiders held the Mountaineers to one-of-13 shooting from three-point range. A partial explanation for that atrocious shooting was the fact that MSM too often settled for poor looks deep rather than methodically running the offense and attacking the glass, but Tech's defense must also receive credit. What's more, the Red Raiders held sterling point guard Julian Norfleet to a single point in the opening stanza. He entered the contest averaging 18 points per game.
Prior to the Mount Saint Mary's game, Tech had been shooting a miserable 30 percent from three-point range. But against the Mountaineers the Red Raiders connected on six of their 13 three-point attempts. That comes out to 46 percent.
But Tech also won this game by playing to their strengths. The Red Raiders, hitherto a strong rebounding team, owned the glass against MSM, pulling down 14 more boards than their opponents. And well they should—aside from seven-foot center Taylor Danaher, the MSM starters went 6-foot-3, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-3, and 6-foot-2.
Playing against such a guard-heavy team, and one that actually runs a pretty salty full-court press, one might have expected the Red Raiders to lose the turnover battle decisively. Didn't happen. Tech committed only 12 turnovers while forcing 15. It should also be noted that Tech's guards had no trouble getting into the paint and finding open big men down on the blocks. Excepting Robert Turner's four turnovers, it was a very good night for the Red Raider guards.
And for good measure, the Red Raiders also hit 86 percent of their free throw attempts.
Tech has been a balanced team all season, and that was certainly true against Mount Saint Mary's. Six Red Raiders—Dejan Kravic, Toddrick Gotcher, Jaye Crockett, Jordan Tolbert, Aaron Ross, and Kader Tapsoba—scored in double figures, with Crockett, Ross and Tolbert also each pulling down at least six rebounds for good measure.
The Red Raiders begin their conference slate Jan. 4 at home against Iowa State.
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