We got it done 62-59. With plenty of teachable moments along the way.
This was a useful game for us, as irritating as it was at times. We saw Cory Joseph get some confidence, an exposure of some negative things that should surprise us not at all, and Rice played and coached a hell of a basketball game.
The game was a good reminder of why basketball is such a cool sport: get a good game plan, have some shots fall, get the other team out of sorts, and you can play competitively with an athletic superior. Rice opened the game in zone and didn't budge from it until the last decisive defensive possession of the game. Offensively, they did a great job of spreading the court and playing intelligent basketball with multiple ball handlers and screening. We couldn't turn them over and they picked on shaky second half switch defense and our lack of recognition of 3 point shooters.
Although we defended quite well in the 1st half, we had no answers for their D early, shooting 2 of 10 from behind the arc on some open looks, Hamilton was thrown off of his game (0-5 from the field in the 1st half, poor decision making), and we were sluggish on the glass. Barnes didn't bring pressure to increase tempo (I think purposefully - I think he wanted to make us work through some half court struggles) and our guys were lulled into matching Rice's pace instead of pushing the ball off of missed baskets. We didn't hit a field goal in the last 7:00 of the half and Rice went in at halftime with a 23-20 lead.
Barnes adjusted by removing Balbay from the game (12 minutes total), extending pressure (token pressure, but it served it's purpose in getting us moving and creating some energy) played the Human Jai-Gnome heavy minutes (30) to create spacing with another shooter, and encouraged all of our perimeter players to take open threes without conscience. Texas put on a 3 point shooting display in the second half as Cory Joseph found his stroke with 4 of 6 from behind the arc and a season and team high 14 points and Jordan Hamilton started to splash too, including three threes in a row.
Barnes said post-game:
I thought that of all the teams that we have played this year that Rice did the best job executing on their offensive end. It was clear that they were going to let us shoot all of the threes that we wanted to shoot and the first half we didn't want to settle into that. We probably tried to over think it and once the ball went inside, which we got it, it comes out. Guys had shots that they should have taken and they didn't. I thought they got a little tentative there.
As our offense got well and remembered how to beat a collapsing zone, the defense degraded without Balbay to pressure and Jai-Gnome and Cory Joseph losing recognition of shooters on the other end. Rice also just shot and handled really damn well.
The biggest bright spot of this game, beyond the team playing through some adversity without bad body language and showing a will to win a tight one, was the play of Cory Joseph and what it bodes for the future. With the pace of the game slowed down and some open looks, we saw a flash of the kid who could score in high school. Mostly, he stopped being overly deferential. He drilled 4 of 6 from behind the arc, had 3 assists, and no turnovers. Water that seed, Ricky.
Once again, Rick tried to get J'Covan early minutes and involvement, and JCB looked good early with a three and some nice passing, but he lost some focus, had a dumb turnover, missed 3-4 shots in a row, and Barnes went with Joseph's hot hand. I'm absolutely convinced that if JCB had continued to play well, he'd have played 30 minutes. Barnes is keeping the guy engaged and I'm glad because we'll need his fearlessness in a tough road environment soon enough. Right now JCB is learning that his minutes are contingent on his play and that the mirror is the best place to lay blame when they're lacking.
Tristan Thompson was good and active inside. Rice constricted on him a good bit and held him in check, but I'll take 10/10 from a true freshman on greater than .500 shooting. His work on the offensive boards was key to keeping Rice away late.
Gary Johnson is deadly on the elbow, but he's still struggling to finish. Without a better handle, his face-up game will always lack against an active defense that contests his jumper.
Wangmene and Hill gave us solid micro-minutes, but they were limited by Rice's spread the court attack. Hill nailed another open 15 foot jumper and Wangmene gave us some board work.
Cory Joseph took a step forward, we were reminded just how much we rely on Dogus for defense when we have to make offensive substitutions (and how Dogus retards us against zone when we don't run), Barnes and the team were reminded about the cruciality of tempo and energy for a young team, and we have some teachable moments on tape for us to learn from.
Onward to Lamar.