The Journey Begins
We didn't need to remind them. They knew. Even Donnie, Herbert and Chris Burns knew, and they weren't even here.
We didn't spend any time this week talking about the Brown game last year. Everybody knew what happened, and everybody knew it was unacceptable. As a staff, we watched the tape, and it was very painful. It was ugly. But other than a few subtle verbal reminders during the week at practice ("This team is coming down that hill expecting to win this game!"), we never brought it up.
This is a new team, a new year, a new feeling. We've worked very hard to make that point every day since we lost to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament last year. That is all behind us, and what is ahead of us is a chance to be great, to prove people wrong.
We had been looking forward to Saturday for a long time, believe me. The first game of the new season is always exciting, but when you have a couple of bad memories you are trying to erase, it can't come son enough.
The electricity in the building was great on Saturday night. The band was loud and enthusiastic, there was a buzz in the crowd and the student sections were full, loud and dressed for the occasion. It was great to see the students getting involved early and it is really important to us. It creates that kind of atmosphere that we are looking for and it gets our guys juiced up.
We were happy with the way the game was played, and obviously happy with the result. Our guys played hard and played together, and it was good to control the game from the beginning. I think we caught Brown at a good time, because they have struggled with some injuries. In fact, after watching the game on tape I was surprised at the amount of "game slippage" that took place. A lot of mistakes were made, but the effort was very good and there was no doubt our guys were playing for one another and trying to help each other.
There continued to be a lot of positive signs for our team, butu we also recognize that we need to get better. We continued to share the ball very well and try and make the extra pass to get good shots. We only turned the ball over 11 times, and that has been one of the problems we've worried about in the pre-season.
Our offense never really seemed to get into a good flow, but we still scored 83 points and shot almost 40% from three-point range. We are building into one of those teams that is very confident shooting the ball at almost every position and should really be able to spread the floor and make defenses chase us all over the place.
Individually, a lot of guys continued to step up. Donnie McGrath continues to make the simple pass and the extra pass to get us open shots, and he didn't play his best game. But 6 assists against 1 turnover on an off night is something we can be pretty excited about. Maris and Sick continued to stroke the ball confidently and prove to be weapons on the perimeter. Tukka played great defense on Earl Hunt early throughout the night and got into zone on offense in the second half. Another weapon continues to emerge that opponents will have to worry about.
At halftime we had a 15 point lead but still didn't feel like our offense was in sync. As we talked about adjustments as a coaching staff, I remember thinking that when things got tight on offense, that Ryan Gomes really needed to step up and establish himself to settle us down and get a good shot. I just felt he needed to be more of a force, a presence. Then the statistics were delivered, and his line was ridiculous - 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. At halftime. Is it possible to dominate quietly? He continues to prove he is a special player.
There is plenty left for us to work on as well, and it is nice to learn from a 19-point win. We got outrebounded by Brown and we need to get a lot better in that area (trust me, it was a major emphasis in Sunday's practice). We gave up the first 10 points of the second half to allow Brown to cut the lead to 5, and we never want our opponent to come out of the locker room more aggressive than we are.
We also didn't get a lot of production out of our bench, and we know we are going to need them over the long haul. We really feel like our depth can be a huge advantage for us, as we have guys who have started a fair share of games for us coming in off the lumber. To be fair, our bench did not get a lot of minutes, and it is hard to get into the flow when you only get a couple of 3 or 4 minute stints in a game. Believe me, it is one of the toughest parts about coaching a game - do the guys on the bench struggle because they aren't getting enough minutes, or do they not get enough minutes because they are stuggling? It's a tough call. And to be honest, I didn't realize on the bench that only one of our reserves (Hayletts) played double figure minutes. We know we've got a lot of guys who can play, and we expect them all to have an impact before it is all said and done.
So now it is on to South Florida, and the schedule certainly doesn't get any easier. South Florida returns a point guard who led Conference USA in assists last year playing with a broken bone in his leg, and they have a 6-11, 270 pound center that scouts consider a potential first-round NBA draft pick. They won 19 games last year, and winning on the road is never easy. It will be interesting to see how our guys react to our first road trip.
So number one is in the books. A bad taste is gone from our mouths, and if you had told me in April that we would beat Brown by 19 points with Ab and Rome combining for only 8 minutes, we'd have taken it in a heartbeat.