Have you ever read the box score of a game you just watched and wondered how the two relate? Were the stat people drunk? Did ESPN.com load the wrong game? Of course, you are the one at the sports bar, so maybe you were drunk?
Well, I certainly had that feeling after OSU's 77-62 win over La Salle (and no, I wasn't drunk...I promise). I full well realize that Anderson scored 28 points, that he and the Pokes answered every Explorer surge, and that game was in hand the majority of the time. Still, the game seemed unnecessarily sloppy and disjointed. I was almost sure this would be reflected in the stats for the game. I was wrong.
In nearly every category, my memory didn't serve me well. I thought the Cowboys did a sloppy job of blocking out, and let their opponents have some silly second chance shots. While La Salle did get 11 offensive boards, the Pokes out rebounded a taller team (in the case of Page and Penn, MUCH taller) 40-35, with Page himself getting six boards.
As the game wore on, I thought OSU was taking far too many three-point shots, and were launching some stupid, low percentage attempts. However, Anderson and Co. shot a not-to-terrible 48 percent from the field, a decent 37 percent from the arc, and as it turns out, no one was absolutely cold from the floor (in all honesty, Anderson of all people had the worst shooting percentage overall).
When it came to ball care and distribution, the Pokes again surprised me: although the assist-to-turnover ratio was under one, it wasn't by much. With 10 assists to 11 turnovers, the Cowboys took care of the ball far, far better than my memory serves. Combine that with the fact that they had nine steals, and the stats simply do not demonstrate a sloppy game being played.
In fact, the only black eyes on the stat sheet were the atrocious Free Throw percentage (56.5 percent...ouch) and the dismal attendance at the Ford Center. So am I crazy, or were there really things to cause worry in the hearts of the Cowboy faithful?
Worry might be the wrong word, but this game was not an utter triumph. There are definitely deficiencies to point out. But before I delve into the negative, let me make sure to point out other positive aspects to the game.
First of all, OU lost and OSU won, and both games where nationally televised.
This may seem like rubbing it in, but it is a legitimate point. The Big XII is crowded with good teams this year. OU, who lost experienced players while picking up some intriguing rookies, got pre-season love this year. On the other hand, the Cowboys, who lost experienced players while picking up some intriguing rookies, received very little.
So other than the Kentucky 2,000th victory, the All-College Classic was the most prominent basketball on television last night (sorry K-State fans...beating an 0-9 team by only 14 isn't quite the same draw). La Salle might not be like the All-College opponents of yester-year (when OSU played teams like Pitt and Gonzaga), but they are a RPI top-100 team. Beating them right after OU losses to a team outside of the RPI top-150 makes an impression with selection committees.
In addition, James Anderson's 28 points came in timely bunches. It seemed like every time La Salle was trying to stoke the fires of a come back, Anderson magically pulled six to eight points out of his hat. His defense late in the game on La Salle's leading scorer, Rodney Green, helped close out the game. Anderson may not be the vocal leader Eaton was last year, but he is certainly figuring out how to step up when the Pokes need him.
Furthermore, Marshall Moses started the second half hot. When Moses is on, his left-handed fade shots are a thing of beauty. Moses is really beginning to figure out some down low mechanics, and although La Salle's center is not the best big man he will face, Moses is still showing an ever increasing basketball IQ. Figuring out how to score at the 5 when you are undersized is an impressive feat, and Moses’ turnaround shot is indeed impressive.
Finally, the Cowboys are a team of sharp shooters, and any of them are liable to go off at any moment. Anderson's stroke is a thing of beauty. When Page is on, he owns the shoulders of the 3-point arc. Penn iced two long bombs like he was playing a game of horse.
Obi Muonelo, who looks positively awkward 75 percent of the time (especially when he is dribbling) might be the deadliest three-point set up shooter we have. If he has time to aim, the man is a sure shot. Even Moses down low has a shooter’s touch. Many of his points came off of balls rolling in after touching the majority of the rim or elegantly bouncing off the backboard.
However, like most sharp shooting teams, the Cowboys are streaky. Sometimes, everyone mentioned above goes ice cold. Sometimes, all of them do. At the same time. Which, of course, isn’t good.
This proves a good segue into discussing what didn't feel right about this game. While it was the case that Anderson, Moses, and Page had spurts of time when they were simply on fire (Anderson at different points during the game, Moses after the half, Page during the sequence of steals), there where other times when they played awful.
For as much touch as Moses has down low, and as much as he is learning to be a formidable presence, he still exhibits times of either thinking too much or not at all. For instance, within five minutes in the second half, Moses missed to shots down low that, if he would have just thundered a dunk home, he would have made. However, in both cases, he got up in the air and waffled as to what he was going to do.
Both times, he decided to shoot an awkward floater, and both times the ball bounced out (the first time, he got his own rebound and made the ensuing put back...that won't happen in Big XII play). A big man simply cannot be indecisive.
On the other hand, Moses can make some incredibly unthinking plays. There was a sequence where he bricked the ball five different times in a row before the tip back finally went in. If he was thinking, he could have grabbed the ball and dunked it in with ease.
At least twice, Moses lost the ball down low (and once out on the wing!) by dribbling the ball. While he isn't the worst ball handler in the world, this is not why he is out on the floor.
When it comes to mindless, out of control basketball, it is actually the two oldest people on the team, Muonelo and Anderson, that are the worst offenders. On back-to-back offensive plays during La Salle's biggest second half push, Muonelo and Anderson both had out of control turnovers that resulted in Explorer points.
Additionally, to go back to the sharp-shooting-but-streaky point made above, OSU is forever tempted to shoot too may three-pointers. While the Pokes only shot 16 this game, at least half of those were a result of impatience and an unwillingness to work the ball around. Muonelo, Anderson, and Page are all susceptible to this.
If they do not see a big man immediately open, you can tell the guards are itching to launch a long bomb. When the big men do get the ball, they are all too willing to make a tough move in traffic, rather than draw defenders in to get the sharp-shooting guards an open look on the opposite side of the court.
OSU should be thriving on the drive and kick, or kick-outs from the big men. Anderson is too good on the drive, and Moses is too good of an inside passer to fall into such a pattern. Instead, they too often rely on each individual to make their own shots. They are lucky so far that many of the Pokes are relatively good at doing so.
Another way to put all this is that the Cowboys seem unwilling to run a half-court offense.
Of course, Coach Ford calibrates his teams to play best off the break. Last night, when the Pokes got the chance to fast break, they dominated the Explorers. Upping the defensive pressure with 10 minutes to go in the game, the Pokes never let go of a double digit lead over La Salle. However, when the Pokes had to slow down, things did not go so well.
At this point in the season, Cowboy nation is well aware of the root causes of such troubles. Youth, leadership, and identity will come up again and again for this team. But pointing these things out in an abstract way does not address the trouble with a particular game.
In this context, a good place to see these problems “in the flesh” is at the Point Guard position. However, its not the case that any of the Point Guards played bad. In fact, the exact opposite was the case.
Page, Penn, and Gulley all do a capable job do a capable job taking care of the ball (they only had one turnover between them). Page added 11 points, six boards, three steals (granted, he played two guard as well). Penn hit two big threes when the occasion called for it.
However, part of "running the point" consists of controlling tempo. You don’t have to be a floor general a la Eaton to accomplish this. You simply have to get the ball in your hands when the offensive gears start grinding. When your Point Guards are the youngest people on the court, its obvious that it will take time for them to take the reins in such a way.
So the question for someone like me, who has been so thoroughly rebuked by the box score, has to be "what more do you want?" Is it the case after being so generous in my description of a loss and a one-point win , I'm simply being greedy and asking too much of this team?
My only response is that these young Cowboys cannot play so disjointed in Big XII play. In years past, the offensive lulls and defensive lapses were enough to make us lose to teams like North Texas. OSU is indeed more talented and more on board with their Coach's vision of the game nowadays. That is why they are 10-1.
However, when the Cowboys hit the conference portion of their schedule, there will no longer be any nights off. There won't be any halves off. There will not be any one or two minute spurts off either.
If OSU is going to show that it belongs in the same discussion as Kansas State, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech, much less KU and Texas, they must learn how to play much more smoothly. KU will go on 10-0 runs if the Cowboys have a three minute lapse in focus. KSU will exploit missed lay-ups. The Pat Knights of the world will purposely lead the Pokes out of their game if OSU is not minding their business.
But in the end, the Cowboys got a good win on national TV. The box score proves this to be the case. They have room to improve like all teams, and Coach Ford is a good enough coach to point this out. Sometimes a win is just a win.