Thursday, January 19, 2006

Three-for-all (BSC 75, VMI 53)

Call it a “contrast in styles,” a “contest of wills,” “irreconcilable differences,” or whatever you like, but when a team that plays at the nation’s second-fastest pace—the VMI Keydets--visits the team with the nation’s 320th-fastest pace—the Birmingham-Southern Panthers—only one team is going to end up playing in its “comfort zone.”

A 69-38 lead in the second half sounds pretty comfortable to you, doesn’t it?

That’s not only four straight wins for the Panthers, but four straight dominant performances. Yeah, they’ve come against four of the league’s five weaker teams and the last three have been at home. But when you haven’t trailed in the second half of any of those games, have held second-half leads of (in order) 22, 19, 17, and 31, you’re doing something very right. This team is playing—and I mean this as the highest compliment—the way BSC fans expected last year’s bunch to.

The JCCW caught the game via the new old-fashioned way of internet radio. Here’s your blow-by-blow recap:


--19-minute mark: Yes! Your head referee for tonight’s game: Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuce Benedict! Having the Braves’ catcher from my formative years on the whistle shouldn’t increase my faith in the officiating tenfold, but it does. Wonder if they’d let him wear zebra stripes the color of the Braves’ ‘80s road baby blues?
--17-minute mark: Differences of philosophy in action as BSC winds the shot clock under 5 seconds before a Viglianco three-point miss, followed by a VMI basket (by reigning Big south Player of the Week Reggie Williams) approximately .3 seconds later.
--16-minute mark: The Viglianco inside-outside pendulum appears to have swung back towards the three-point arc. He starts 0-3 from the field, all of them from outside. Just keep reminding yourself Thomas, I’m 6-9, I’m 6-9, I’m 6-9…
--13-minute mark: Back-to-back threes by Collins and Ruffin break open up a 15-9 BSC lead. 12 of those points are off threes. It’s all about the eFG, baby.
--BSC radio man Kevin Henslee gives us the Duke-N.C. State score, and I wonder exactly how many hoops fans with the option of watching that game with Dickie V have instead chosen BSC-VMI with Kevin. Probably two or three at the most, and I can’t decide if that makes me hopelessly cool or just a little on the pathetic side.
--7-minute mark: McMillan drains yet another three to put BSC up 26-20. Kevin has used the phrase “The clock goes under…” to indicate a dwindling shot clock half-a-dozen times on BSC’s end. By contrast, he’s had trouble a couple of times even finishing his call of the last play by the time VMI’s possession is over. I keep expecting him to say, “Checking in for VMI, Bo Kimble…”
--5-minute mark: Dear God, Horton just hit his third three of the half just after Paul (!) drained his first try from outside (Kevin lets us know that Paul’s shooting less than 30 percent from out there, which tells you what kind of shooting night BSC is having). Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if BSC had even hit a two-point FG at this point. 32-22 Panthers.
--3-minute mark: The first-half in microcosm: Horton hits from downtown again (he’s got 12 points already) and before poor Kevin can even look up from his stat sheet VMI’s Travis Holmes finds Matt Murrer underneath for lay-up. The Keydets have had plenty of great looks and are shooting well, but when your baskets count for two points and your opponents count for three, 36-28 deficits are going to happen. Plus…
--1-minute mark:…Powe is abusing them on the offensive glass. He gets a tip-in off a Paul miss before Paul scores the last basket of the half by putting back his own miss. The Masters P wrap up the half by scoring BSC’s last three baskets and the Panthers lead at the break by 12, 42-30.
The Keydets’ rebounding is Exhibit A why you can’t always trust standard “per-game” stats: they lead the Big South in rebounds-per, but based on the evidence of the first half, it’s purely from jacking up more shots to chase down.
BSC’s first-half shooting stats, as expected, show the kind of long-distance commitment usually reserved for AT&T. 24 of their 31 FG attempts were threes (they hit 10) and they went nearly 14 minutes (from 15:20 to 1:32) without a two-point basket.


--16-minute mark: More of the same as BSC’s first three baskets are two lay-ups off of offensive rebounds and a Collins three. It’s now 51-34, and as comebacks start on the defensive end—where VMI has played the kind of intensity that should earn them a sponsorship from C-Span—I suspect this game is over.
--14-minute mark: Suspicions confirmed. Ehirim has a rejection-ferocious dunk (“He rocked the rim on that one!” Kevin yells)-rejection sequence followed by…wait for it…trust me, it’s a hell of a shock…a three-pointer, this one from Collins to push the lead to 22, 56-34. Pack your bags, gentlemen.
--12-minute mark: BSC’s already entered their get-the-freshmen-minutes phase (marked by 6-7 frosh Kyle Rowland getting a little too inspired by that first-half display and hoisting a couple of ill-advised threes), but the lead grows anyway as the VMI offense, never exactly complicated, has regressed to pure, undiluted, YMCA-style jacking.
--8-minute mark: Josh Bailey sighting! Josh Bailey sighting! The senior Birmingham native and career 12th-man-off-the-bench hits two free throws, extending the lead to 31 and making it an official SACS-accredited Humiliation.
--Also 8-minute mark: VMI’s Matt Murrer hits a three. He’s gone 5-for-5 on the evening for 12 points while most of his teammates have spent the half trying unsuccessfully to throw the ball in the ocean. Here’s a tip for the VMI coaching staff: Before the next game, make sure Matt introduces himself to the rest of the team. Firm handshakes are important.
--2-minute mark: A layup for Bailey, giving him a career high. (Yes, it’s a career high of four points, but the first person to crack wise about it gets my foot up their ass, and there’s something about Kevin’s enthusiasm in relaying this information that suggests he feels the same way.)
--Game mercifully over, 75-53. In his post-game interview Reboul praises Powe’s glasswork and dishwork, and at Kevin’s urging gives Bailey some serious love. "It's unbelievable how hard Josh works in practice. In fact, he works so hard we're forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines to the Department of Labor, but it's worth it for Josh," Reboul says. (I'm paraphrasing.)


BSC: Right now, the single biggest thing separating BSC from the Big South’s lesser lights is how well the Panthers take care of the ball. Despite facing a team whose pace makes the term “frenetic” seem inadequate, BSC turned the ball over only eight times and posted a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a team. That’s damn, damn good. By contrast, the Keydets has the exact inverse ratio, turning the ball over 16 times to 8 assists … Line of the Night belongs to Sir Paul, who finished with 15 points on 7 of 13 shooting, 6 boards, 2 assists, a steal, and zero turnovers in 22 minutes. Did anyone besides Reboul know he was going to be this good? ... Will be interesting to see how many minutes LeCory Ruffin draws in the tight games that will eventually come. The freshman has loads of talent, but he’s in a slump, having shot 1-10 over his last two games. Last night he finished with three points in 21 minutes and had three of those eight BSC turnovers (to one assist) … Every player on the BSC roster got double-digit minutes and scored. Mmmmm, blowout. Tasty.

VMI: You see that Reggie Williams shot 6-12 for 15 points with 10 rebounds, and you’d think he had a solid game. But he played 34 minutes, put up some, uh, highly questionable shots when BSC was pulling away in the second half, and had 1 assist to 4 turnovers. The 6-9 sophomore is obviously a terrific player, but this wasn’t his best game, by a long shot … Coach Duggar Baucom clearly isn’t about to let the Keydets become a halfcourt team, but VMI has to be more team-oriented on offense. None of the five starters registered more than one assist and the team-high was two … Turns out “Duggar” is pronounced “doo-ger” (at least according to Kevin) and that the VMI coach has missed a few games (last night’s included) recovering from surgery. (The Keydets were headed up by an assistant.) Get well soon, coach. What conference doesn’t need a “Duggar” roaming the sidelines?

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