UTA (3-3) 80, Mount St. Mary’s (1-5) 71
I’ll admit I was intrigued by this matchup for the last few days. UTA still trying to recapture the offensive flow and smooth ball movement that worked so well for them last year and overcoming the well-documented frequent second-half offensive lulls this season; Mount St. Mary’s plays an very uptempo offense with a trapping, pressing defense. I figured it would be a high-scoring affair with the possibility of lots of turnovers due to the potential speed of the game. Would the Mountaineers turn this into a track meet, or would UTA control the tempo and use good ball movement to create open shots?
The answer: all the above, kinda. Sorta. But not as high scoring as I thought.
The first half was
a bit very sloppy, with 26 turnovers between the two teams—the Mountaineers committing 15. Some of that has to be attributed to their style of play. Their defense presses, traps, challenges every inbounds pass and it forces other teams to play a little faster than usual and hence a few extra mistakes due to the speed of the game. The interesting part was, when most teams trap…it’s usually easy to find an open player downcourt for an easy basket. The Mountaineers did a pretty decent job of covering downcourt so that long pass wasn’t really available. The Mavs did a very good job breaking their press most of the night. Gotta give a ton of credit to pointg guards Erick Neal and DJ Bryant for staying composed and handling their defense pretty well. I can only imagine what sort of problems The Mountaineers will cause for teams with inexperienced point guards or forwards that throw lazy passes—again, be thankful we have superior skill at the position with Neal and Bryant running the offense.
The Mounteers also extend their defense as far as any team does, I guess trying to take away the three point shot. This led to a lot of openings along the baseline and some openings in the paint in the second half, and with the three point shot being OK-but-not-great for the Mavs tonight (6-19, 31%), UTA was able to focus on attacking the basket almost at will in the final 15:00 or so, allowing them to stretch out the lead a bit. For the night, UTA shot 53% with a lot of those points coming in the paint on layups or very short jumpers.
The Mountaineers offense was interesting too. It played fast, kinda like Texas State used to a few years ago under Doug Davalos. But Texas State played fast and under control for the most part. The Mountaineers offense was fast but in a seemingly out of control kinda way and in turn committed some unforced errors (a rare inbounds/baseline violation or two, a halfcourt line violation or two while bringing the ball upcourt, simply losing control of the dribble and the ball going out of bounds). UTA’s defense played a big role in the Mountaineers’ issues with protecting the ball as well: the Mavs pressed and rattled their guards and led to 6 steals in the first half, 10 overall. Unfortunately UTA returned the favor with 11 turnovers in the first half, took some ill-advised shots not in the flow of the offense and not being able to pull away, went to intermission with a 35-34 lead.
So the second half starts…the Mavs come out on fire offensively, get some stops on the defensive end and just 3:01 later UTA is up by 9 after a couple of layups, a three pointer and a free throw. Both teams seemed to settle down and committed fewer turnovers and, as I stated earlier, UTA was able to get layups and attack the basketball with much success. This was the second half we’ve been waiting to see all season. Mountaineers gave UTA a good challenge and the Mavs had their hands full tonight, but UTA seemed to find a new confidence especially on the defensive end. Getting stops, blocking shots, running the UTA offense that we’ve come to appreciate the last few years. Good ball movement, taking and making smart shots. Improve a little, one game at a time. It’s starting to come together.
Erick Neal had a great game—10 assists, 13 points and 4 steals, (5-10fg, 2-5 3pt.), Jalen Jones was 7-10fg, 1-3 3pt, and Nathan Hawkins had another good game with 12 points in 20 minutes off the bench (4-5fg, 2-3 3pt, 2-2 ft). He’s playing with a ton of confidence right now, defending and shooting very well and I think could be playing a much bigger role in the offense a month or two from now. Drew Charles had a very rare tough shooting night scoring 1 point on 0-4fg, 0-2 3pt, 1-2 ft. Kevin Hervey played 23 minutes and scored 7 points on 2-9 shooting with a 3-pointer and made both free throw attempts in 23 minutes.
The Mountaineers shot a very respectable 48% on the night, making 25-52 attempts and making 12 of their 19 free throws. 53 of their 71 points came from two very good shooters who had career-high scoring totals: Miles Wilson who was 9-14fg, 2-4 from outside, 6-10ft for 26 points and Elijah Long who was 10-17fg, 3-3 from outside, 4-4ft for 27 points. They were defended well, but give them credit for simply making tough shots.
Overall, a great second half on both ends of the floor for UTA and a very nice job by the guards handling a well-executed press led to the Mavs’ 3rd victory of the year.
Next up: at Fordham on Saturday. Fordham is 5-1 with home wins over Rider, Lipscomb, St. Peter’s, Fairleigh Dickinson and New York Institute of Technology. Fordham lost their only road contest, at East Tennessee State in their season opener.