So we won the first big test on our schedule against a very talented bunch. Hell, Carolina is a team loaded with NBA talent. But you know what, we didn't play well. We played hard. We played intense.
We played with brass balls. But we didn't play well, and we still won by double digits. The ceiling is sky high for this group and you'll see what I mean as the season wears on.
But the real story is the brass balls comment. Did Alec Baldwin from Mitch and Murray give our pregame speech? Must have. We got every loose ball, nearly every big rebound, and delivered virtually every big blow figuratively and with our elbows. Deon Thompson is sore this morning. And his NBA career is a little lighter in the wallet because of it. Our kids played with brass balls and showed we have a bunch of closers even if it wasn't their best performance.
On to the closers, I mean players.
Played his best game in a Longhorn uniform and probably made himself some money in the process. So what if the guy handles the ball like Olden Polynice, dude's a fucking warrior. Damion played like he was 6-10 and made Deon Thompson his personal ho the entire afternoon. I typed in the preview that I thought Damion's athleticism would bother Thompson's face up game, but I didn't count on Damion physically dominating Thompson in every other facet of the ballgame. If Damion hits a couple of his 5 three point attempts he plays the perfect ballgame. Aside from that, everything else he did was borderline ridiculous. Fifteen boards against that frontcourt is nuts. Offensively, he punished the slow footed Carolina 4's by taking them out on the perimeter and blowing by them to the goal. I counted at least 5 drawn fouls that led to easy points. That's basketball IQ. That's senior leadership. That's getting it done. We already talked about his defense.
As good as Damion played Dexter played even better. Dex showed the assertiveness he played with during last season's conference tourney and he did it for huge minutes without dropping his level of play. Our Kansas and Kentucky friends won't like this, but Dexter showed why he's the best big man in college basketball bar none. Find me a better statline against a better frontcourt. I'll make it easy on you, you can't. Even more encouraging was the fact that Dex was able to have this type of performance in a game played at such a torrid pace. And it wasn't done on sets and a ton of classic post entry. Pitt was getting offense off of penetration dimes and rebounds. That means he wasn't clogging things up or slowing things down for his talented perimeter teammates. He dominated in a complementary role, playing in an open floor style of game and absolutely wrecked shit. Think about that.
In a word, fearless. The kid plays with so much poise for a freshman. The next color guy that brings up his past as a "troubled youth" needs to be placed in a burlap sack and beaten with reeds. Can we talk about his unflappable demeanor against college basketball's most storied program? How about his floaters over seven footers, or his momentum creating 3-balls? Dimes anyone? He's dropping them against the powder blue, Dick. Dick. Not to mention he completely humiliated Larry Drew on national TV. But Port Arthur High's the real story. Gotcha. If J'Covan plays like he did against UNC, we can win any sort of pace or styled basketball game against any sort of defense. His ability to create and score is just what the doctor ordered for this team. He may be the most valuable player on the club for that reason.
Doge's statline does little if any justice for the young man's performance. Balbay had two important tasks in this game and excelled at both. Job one was to limit Larry Drew's ability to breakdown the Texas defense. Check out Drew's statline and then rewatch the last five minutes of the game to see Drew's tongue dragging, short grabbing tired ass do virtually nothing. Doge sapped every ounce of energy out of the young point guard. Balbay's second task was to push tempo and take care of the ball on offense. Check and check. Dogus won his battles convincingly.
Just a horrible performance. Shot selection, effort, decision making, you name it. The one bright spot was Jordan's performance on the glass, and I previewed he'd be needed on the boards from his 3 position. Had he had a better floor game, Jordan likely gets a double double, but he can't keep making critical decision errors and expect to get minutes. There were times he absolutely killed us with dumb shots and turnovers.
Now that's what I've been talking about. When Avery hunts his offense, this team can be silly good. Put Brown on the floor with him, and I'm not sure there's a better scoring backcourt in the nation, and certainly not one as complementary. Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe were fire and ice. Avery Bradley and J'Covan Brown fit the bill even better. As for the rest of Bradley's game, his speed and quickness shocked UNC's perimeter personnel, which was expected.
Quietly Gary Johnson has parlayed his limited minutes into a valuable component of the squad. His role as an instant offense/effort guy has now been validated by a great performance against a big, physical frontcourt. Gary's playing time should increase as a result. If he has legitimately added the 3 ball in his arsenal, he can give us answers at the 3 spot when matched with the correct personnel.
Our X factor in the preview really came to battle and provided the Horns with valuable minutes in the post. I thought his big offensive board and put back early in the game was huge. We were struggling on offense at that point and in sort of a danger zone.
We need to quit banging our heads against the wall starting the first half and second half by continuing to play Mason with Balbay. I know you want to reward the senior and not damage his psyche for the remainder of the season, but my Lord we're a bad offensive basketball team when these two play together. It may cost us a game at some point.
Matt's playing with a lot of confidence right now and he's showing much better lift than he has had since his foot injury. I expect to see Hill's minutes increase especially as scorers like Bradley and Brown continue to emerge and take on a bigger scoring load. Don't discount the big minutes Matt gave us in the UNC game. They were huge in matching Carolina's frontcourt depth.
He looked like a kid that hadn't played competitive basketball in a year. I find it comical, however, that people have already counted the kid out. He'll help us win a game down the stretch.
Overall, this game proved we can win games with sheer physicality and athleticism even when our opponent has a good shooting night and we don't. That's huge come tourney time because night in and night out, your ability to defend and rebound is a constant. And that constant allows you to manufacture possessions which results in wins regardless of how good or bad you or your opponent shoots it. Shooting the basketball is a fickle imposter that, when the moons align just right, allows mid majors to knock off Goliaths. If we rebound and play physical like we did yesterday, shooting won't matter. And when we shoot it well, no one in the country can beat us.