The Bisons gave UALR a tough game last night, nearly handing the Division-I Trojans a loss in their second game at the Jack Stephens Center. The facility was impressive, but for the Trojans’ fans, their team was not. They showed an inability to shoot the deep ball and an unwillingness to give an effort and use their edge in athleticism on both ends of the floor. As a result, Harding’s superior technical skill kept them in the game most of the way.
If you can’t tell already, I was not impressed by the two-time defending Sun Belt East Champion Trojans. They didn’t play good defense except for a moderately effective press early in the game and a few tough possessions when the game was close toward the end. Their starting center, fellow Chattanoogan Rashad Jones-Jennings, went down with an injury in the second half when he was their second-leading scorer and their only real inside presence.
For a D-I team, UALR was small and not particularly skilled at anything other than shooting over and around our undersized defenders. I thought there were several times that leading scorer Kyle Wright could have just blown by Reggie Bibb, Steven Barnett, or Lonnie Smith, but instead he chose to take the difficult shot. Granted, he did score 37 points and had the highest game score I can remember seeing in a long time (38.1). Wright had nine assists, eight rebounds, and seven steals, making him extremely close to getting a quadruple-double for the game.
Matt Hall led the way for the Bisons with 33 points, including 13 (out of 17) from the free throw line. He shot fairly well, considering that he almost always had a larger, more athletic player guarding him. He surprised the whole crowd with one impressive drive along the baseline in the first half, dunking over the UALR defenders. Lonnie Smith was equally impressive, with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-10 from outside.
Patrick Andrepont made his Harding debut, scoring 13 points and playing very well throughout the night. He took an ill-advised shot or two, but he made plenty of good plays to make up for them. Brandon Sims also debuted with five points and a few heady plays in 25 minutes on the court. He was used to a similar level of competition at Creighton, so that was helpful for the team.
Last night also marked the debut of two Bison point guards, junior transfer Reggie Bibb and true frosh Steven Barnett. Bibb dished out seven assists and scored five points, but he turned the ball over six times and fouled out after 24 minutes in the game, pretty much negating any positive impact he had. Barnett had a three-pointer and an assist in 16 minutes of play, but more importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. Both had to guard larger players the whole game, and I was impressed by their on-ball defense.
Other returning players who got minutes last night were starting center Jacob Thies, Cole Kee, and Jesse Bynum. Thies and Bynum both had little to offer in their combined 22 minutes of play, with Thies fouling out in 16 minutes and Bynum practically nonexistent for 6 minutes. Their total game score of -3.8 will have to improve against Division-II opponents if we are to have an effective inside game (other than Matt Hall). Kee showed an uncharacteristic amount of restraint and skill, shooting 2-of-3 from outside and making several key rebounds. Junior transfer Alassane Savadogo played well in limited time, with an extremely impressive 41% rebound rate (six rebounds in nine minutes). If he’s really this good at rebounding, he should be starting. Just for reference, 21.2% was the leading figure in rebound rate last year among all regular GSC players.
Here are the stats from Dean Oliver’s four key areas of the game:
For a quick review, those keys are shooting better than your opponent (measured by true shooting percentage in this case), rebounding well on the offensive end, and keeping your opponent from doing the same (measured by offensive rebound percentage), not turning the ball over as much as your opponent (measured by turnover ratio, and lower is better), and getting to the free throw line more often and making your shots (measured here by free throws made per possession).
We shot slightly better than UALR, but their edges in other areas make it a wonder that we finished within six points of their score. They held a distinct advantage in rebounding (when Savadogo wasn’t out there), didn’t turn the ball over much, and got to the free throw line (credited to our inability to stop them inside, which resulted in lots of fouls). It’s really not hard to see why they won after looking at these stats.
I was actually very impressed with our team’s performance against such good opposition. The Trojans were better than any other team the Bisons will see all year, and it was a close game down to the end. Matt Hall and Lonnie Smith look ready to reprise their roles as perhaps the conference’s two best offensive players. Once we can establish a better inside presence and play tougher defense, our team could be very hard to beat.