Photo by David Chamberlain / MTSU Sidelines
As expected, the MTSU men’s basketball team beat lowly NAIA school, Milligan College, like a drum on Friday by a score of 102-70. The Blue Raiders benefited from a 34-2 run midway through the first half that blew the game wide open. The game was never close after that mammoth run, and by the time the last five minutes rolled around, it was time to clear the bench and let the walk-ons play.
Despite the blowout score and the offensive explosion that occurred in the first half, it’s still hard to accurately evaluate a team after their first two games when they have yet to play a Division I opponent. So, for now, fans and media alike are stuck to play the game: Is this team actually good? Or did they just play an NAIA school? So to decide whether or not this young team is good already, or if the quality of the opponents disguised some glaring issues, there are some aspects of the game that need to be looked at to come to any conclusion.
One of the more indicative stats to look at to see how well an offense is executing their gameplay is the number of times they turn the ball over. The Blue Raiders turned the ball over 22 times against Lees-McRae and 16 times on Friday against Milligan. Averaging 19 turnovers per game against non-DI opponents is egregious. It’s also a sign of a young team that has yet to appropriately gel as a cohesive unit.
Head coach Nick McDevitt was obviously not pleased with the number of turnovers, but one thing he chose to focus on was the type of turnovers, categorizing them into “dead-ball turnovers” (turnovers that result in a dead-ball scenario such as going out of bounds or committing an offensive foul) and “live-ball turnovers” (turnovers that keep the ball in play such as a bad pass leading to the other team stealing the ball).
McDevitt recognized that his team committed less live-ball turnovers but still insists that it is a problem his team needs to get fixed and is a product of their tendency to relax when they get leads.
“Live-ball turnovers really get you in trouble,” McDevitt noted after the game. “Over the last couple of games, we tend to relax. We were up 23 in one of our scrimmage games and had 12 turnovers in about a 10-minute span. Against Lees-McRae, we had eight turnovers in about a five and a half minute span. You tend to relax physically and relax mentally, your passes aren’t as sharp and your movement without the ball is not as sharp.”
Shooting and offensive rebounding
One takeaway from the game against Milligan was the shooting performance (especially from Antonio Green). The Blue Raiders were able to get clean looks from beyond the arc and were able to knock them down. Some of these clean looks came from the more up-tempo style of play that McDevitt pledged when he first stepped foot in Murphy Center.
For Green, the pace helped get open looks that led to a 6-13 shooting performance from behind the arc. However, he still feels he can knock down shots in any offense.
“I think (up-tempo pace) is good for everybody overall. I feel like I can make shots in any offense,” Green said.
He also added that the pace helps most with just giving the team more opportunities to knock down shots.
“The more shots you get, the more chances you get to score,” Green said.
Senior forward Karl Gamble didn’t get to start, but he provided a monster game on the boards while coming off the bench. He not only notched his first career double-double, but he posted a career-high in rebounds with 12 (five of them being offensive rebounds).
While recording a career-high in rebounds should make fans optimistic, the performance should also be taken with a grain of salt, considering none of the players on Milligan’s team had size that was anything close to resembling the 6-9, 220-pound frame that Gamble possesses. Considering the Blue Raiders’ overall lack of size, they will rely heavily on Gamble, as well as Missouri State transfer Reggie Scurry (who also posted a double-double against Milligan), to provide a source of rebounding and create second chances on the offensive end when shots don’t fall initially.
“I just need to not focus on scoring as much,” Gamble said. “I just need to defend and rebound like I did in that first half.”
Given the tough non-conference schedule that is filled with prolific offenses, the Blue Raiders will need to be as exceptional on the defensive end as they were last season. Milligan jumped out to a 12-10 lead in the first 7:48 of game action. On a couple of those plays, Milligan shooters were left wide open due to a lack of off-ball defensive communication.
Like the turnovers, McDevitt believes that this has been a result of his players relaxing when they’re not guarding the ball.
“We just have to stay alert off the ball,” McDevitt said. “Young and inexperienced players can exert a lot of energy when they’re locked in guarding the ball so off the ball, they tend to relax and good teams will burn you.”
Starting on Monday, the Blue Raiders will start playing those teams that McDevitt alluded to. Good ones. When they travel to Belmont on Monday they will be playing a team that is talented, sharp-shooting and picked by some to win their conference. In a couple weeks, they will be playing Virginia, a top-10 team in the country. It’s hard to come to a conclusion on what this team is right now, but fans and media will know soon enough when they face-off against legitimate competition.
To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, email firstname.lastname@example.org.