Things started very well for the Yellow Jackets. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead and just kept pushing the lead in the first half. Northern Illinois could not score and GT’s offense looked scary. Good ball movement, lots of off-ball movement, second chance opportunities. By the end of the half the Good Guys were leading 43-20. It looked like they might be in for their first cruise game of the season. Then they started to cruise too early.
The early second half was UGLY. Deivon Smith (we’ll get to him later) got hurt early in the second half and everything stalled. There were awful turnovers and dumb shots and bad fouls galore. The Huskies went on a 17-1 run to get the deficit down to 7. They muddled along for a few more minutes before Deivon Smith came back in the game. He immediately made a fantastic assist to Lance Terry then followed that up with a steal and a fantastic fast break finish and 1. That got the lead back up to 16 with 8 minutes left in the game. NIU never threatened again.
I’ll start with the good parts. Deivon Smith was fantastic. He looked as good as I’ve ever seen him. He finished with 11 points, 9 boards, 6 assists (to just 1 turnover), and three massive blocks. Most importantly he looked totally in control. He was whipping passes to the right man and getting great penetration on the drive. His jumping is out of this world. He will get big blocks the rest of the season that will galvanize the team. He looks like he could be driving this offense while making huge plays on defense.
I was also really impressed with Javon Franklin. Rodney Howard picked up 2 fouls in 2 minutes so Franklin came in and played fantastic. He gave tons of energy at the 5 and took full opportunity of scrap points. He got two monster dunks early and was huge on the glass. Defensively he racked up 5 blocks. He played 30 minutes and you could feel his missing presence when he was on the bench.
The team did very defensively. Northern Illinois shot just 30% from the field in the game. They forced a lot of bad shots and the Huskies were spooked every time they got in the lane. NIU also shot just 42% from the line so maybe it just wasn’t their day.
To the bad. Let’s start with team rebounding. The Jackets did fine on the offensive glass, but defensive was another story. They let Northern Illinois gather 36.5% of their potential offensive rebounds. The Huskies are not particularly tall or athletic. If they had this much issue against Northern Illinois then watch out against ACC teams.
Part of that rebounding issue has to be laid at the feet of Rodney Howard. He got 2 fouls in the first two minutes of the game. When he came back he promptly got a third. In the 9 minutes he played he was basically a non-factor. He had no points or rebounds. Coming into the season I was optimistic about Howard building on his second half last year and becoming a leader for this team. Right now I’m more excited for Franklin at the 5. Hopefully this is just early season jitters.
And finally, three point shooting. Deebo Coleman went 3-6 and looked good doing it. Everyone else? Just 2-12, mostly a result of Miles Kelly shooting 1-7. Among those 10 misses were a lot of bad ones. Tristan Maxwell airballed a wide open three, several others bounced off the outside of the rim. I’m not THAT worried about shooting on this team (Kelly was 2-3 against Georgia State), but it’s not looking like a true weapon for the team.
Northern Illinois struggled all game with offense, even that 17-1 run had its fair share of ugliness. The most impressive player by far was wing Zarique Nutter. He drew some fouls, made some nice drives, and grabbed five offensive boards on his way to an 18 point and 15 rebound night. Point Guard David Coit wasn’t hitting shots, but kept shooting anyway and finished shooting 4-16 for 10 points.
All in all I’m happy with the result. Northern Illinois is not good (kenpom rank 291, they are 1-3 despite only playing 2 D1 games so far). But this team mostly handled business (outside of the 8 minutes starting the second half). I liked what I saw from some players and I really liked that Pastner really spread the minutes around. I think this team needs that this year.
Next the Yellow Jackets head to Fort Myers where they take on Utah on Monday and then either Mississippi State or Marquette. Utah started the season by crushing three minnows at home and then losing in it’s first real test, a home game against Sam Houston State (kenpom #124). They have a ton of size so it will be a fun game of contrasts. That game tips off at 6 pm eastern on Monday the 21st.