Building blocks to success means more than just the score
by Rob Daniels
UNCGSpartans.com staff writer
There will be days and nights when the scoreboard is the final and only important arbiter of success for the UNCG men's basketball program. Sunday’s meeting with 22nd-ranked Virginia Tech isn’t in that category. Rather, they hope the 92-70 defeat, an exercise in running sets against aggressive half-court defense, is the kind of tool they can use when the stakes are higher and victory is more viable.
Although possibly biased because he liked the result, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg gets it. As coach of Long Beach State in the 1990s, he built a program in part with aggressive nonconference scheduling, and he suspects the Spartans will benefit as well.
“It’s simple,” he said. “You get guys to understand that these games are part of the learning process and that what you’re trying to do is build a profile, create a culture and maybe separate yourselves from other teams in your conference. Especially at this time of the year, it’s not about the opponent; it’s about your team.”
For UNCG, Sunday’s lesson was apparent: the importance of ball security. The Spartans shot 56 percent from the floor, but offset that success with 29 turnovers.
“We shot the ball well,” coach Mike Dement said. “We just didn’t get a lot of shots.”
One statistic is telling. Of the 29 Spartan turnovers, 20 were recorded as Hokie steals. A week earlier, 20 of 26 giveaways were Florida State steals. In other words, the errors are open-floor, live-ball turnovers, and that variety is inherently more dangerous than a five-second count or a charge, after which the clock stops and the offense gets to transition orderly to defense.
All of this explains some of why the Spartans have allowed an average of 96.7 points a game through three outings.
For the Spartans, this week’s learning experience differed from the one a week earlier. The Seminoles were a full-court pressing team and Virginia Tech prefers to pick you up at half court and compel you to pick up your dribble. At that point, the Hokies smell blood, overplaying passing lanes with confidence because they know enforcer Jeff Allen is hanging back to deter shots in the lane.
Sunday marked the first appearance of Spartan guard Trevis Simpson, who had missed the first two contests recovering from a preseason shoulder injury. In one first-half stretch, he drained two heavily contested 3-pointers but lost possession on two other trips.
“I think I learned that this isn’t high school anymore,” said Simpson, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Douglas, Ga. “I need to keep my dribble, keep my head up and look to create shots for myself and for my teammates. If you’re going pick up your dribble, you have to be strong with the ball. That’s what other teams are looking for: They’re looking to attack you.”
Simpson’s competitive nature got its first outlet, and that was one of Sunday’s building blocks. Another was the 7-for-8 shooting in the low post from center Aloysius Henry, who developed a promising partnership with point guard Kyle Randall. One of Henry’s strengths is the ability to take a lob pass with his back to the basket and adjust to the rim quickly.
“I’m learning how to be more aggressive and play at the fast tempo,” Henry said. “I’m also learning how to compete every night against a top-level program.”
The game also represented the first college start for two freshmen, power forward Cody Henegar and swing man David Williams. The changes moved guard Brandon Evans to a role coming off the bench and figures to give the Spartans more size and versatility in their rotation.
The first of the scoreboard-specific, results-oriented games comes on Tuesday when N.C. A&T comes to the coliseum. Greenberg, for one, thinks it’s a mistake to assume too much about UNCG’s first three games.
“That team is going to be good,” he said. “They’re young. I like Randall, and Henry is a legitimate low-post scorer.”