Before Saturday’s game, it was already clear that Henderson State was the best defensive team in the conference. Their stingy 88.9 rating was only slightly better than Delta State’s 90.7, but HSU had played a far tougher schedule.
This is not an excuse for a poor shooting performance like the one the Bisons endured on Saturday. Rather, it’s a testament to the physicality and philosophy of the Reddies’ players and coaching staff. Fully aware that they can get away with pushing teams around on most nights (or find a way to make up for it when they can’t), Henderson State pounds opposing players into submission and uses their quickness to keep opponents from getting off great shots.
Before I discuss further, let’s look at the stats:
This was not a typical Matt Hall performance, and there was one major reason: the Reddies just destroyed him in the paint. I’m typically wary of lending a lot of credibility to the radio broadcast crew’s relentless HU-favored slant, but having seen these teams battle in the past, I fully believe that the Reddies decided before the game to pummel Hall underneath and keep him from being the deciding factor. I could be wrong, but this is my impression from previous years’ experience watching the games and from listening to the broadcast of this one.
The Bisons seem to lack the flexibility in their game plan to account for the “officials sit on their hands” scenario, which is understandable. This type of thing can go both ways (and usually does), but it’s clear that the Bisons are not equipped to dole out equal punishment on the other end. With this type of game, there’s often not much left to do besides trying to get better shots from secondary options. That’s basically what the Bisons tried to do, but it didn’t work out for them.
Remarkably, Harding emerged as the clear winner in the rebounding battle. Despite being mostly overmatched inside in both shooting and defense, the Bisons kept the Reddies from getting an inordinate number of second chances, which is part of what kept the game close. Turnovers were the other factor, and Harding held a 7% advantage there.
I suppose there’s not much left to say about this loss, which was a great listen but an unfortunate end to an exciting game. I’m not going to blame the officiating (I spend too much time doing that, anyway). I think it could be more consistent, but it’s nearly impossible to say that any one team is favored or that another is at a disadvantage on a regular basis.
The Bisons will have to roll with the punches and find other options when Hall gets shut down, as was the case in this game. Henderson State had the same problem with Dee Dee Drake, but they got solid games from Antoine Vinson and Omar Guinea, as well as some strangely good luck at the free throw line to push them over the top. The trio of Hamilton, Andrepont, and Sims gave it a good effort, but their scoring wasn’t enough in the end. Given the outlook for each team before the game, it looks like the Bisons played very well to make this one an exciting game.