Exhibition games are great because we get a chance to finally go up against someone else after beating up on each other for 3 weeks. It also gives us a chance to get into the Dunkin' Donuts Center for the first time so all of our kids can get comfortable in the building.
It is a very exciting time for the freshman. Donnie McGrath was surprised to see the size of the crowd, and even a little more surprised to hear that the regular season crowds are only going to get bigger. He said he had played in front of 3,000 people in a playoff game in high school, so he needs to get used to crowds about four times that size.
It is natural for the young guys to be nervous before putting on the uniform for the first time, and I think Donnie, Chris and Herbert all had trouble getting a good night sleep on Friday. Donnie said it really hit him when we came back into the locker room about 10 minutes before tip-off, and he saw his name on the board with his defensive assignment. At that point he realized this was the real deal, and he said all he wanted was to make sure he knocked in his first shot.
Well, if was nervous he has a great way of showing it. Early in the first half he drilled a quick-release three without hesitating and I think that really made him feel comfortable. He moved the ball very well and knocked in open shots, including a big-time pull-up 3 behind a ball screen in the second half. I'm sure making his first shot really gave him a lot of confidence.
Confidence is very important for this team, especially with some of our key veteran guys still injured. Sick, Donnie, Kareem, Leland and Tuukka all played with a lot of confidence on offense - moving the ball quickly, finding open teammates and knocking in open shots. Marcus didn't have a great numbers night but did a lot of good things in helpside on defense and picked up his aggressiveness on the glass in the second half. Rob Sanders showed some spectacular ability at both ends of the floor, and Ryan Gomes, who still hasn't had a full week of practice pitched in a ho-hum 16 point, 8 rebound effort while still clearly not being at the top of his game.
We can take a lot of good things away from Saturday night. The last thing Coach tells the team is to make sure they play hard and play together, and there is no doubt we did both of those. In fact, we probably played better together than we could have expected for the first time out. We played as a team defensively looking to help each other out and we were very unselfish with the ball on offense. By moving the ball well we were able to get open looks, and we made 11-21 threes which meant we shot the ball with some confidence. In fact, Chris Anrin was just one for four and with Maris out of the line-up, our other guys knocked in 10-17 from downtown.
We still have 3 weeks before we tip it off for real, and we know we have a long way to go. But it was a good start, and now the challenge is to keep getting better without taking any steps backwards. We can show the tape to our guys and pick out the key points we need to improve on.
These next 3 weeks are very important. Once we get started we have 3 games in one week against 3 very good teams.