Well, that was better. It wasn't perfect, but it was better. Youngstown State (picked to finish 8th of 9 in their conference) put up more fight than expected, but the squad rebounded (both literally and figuratively) nicely from a night to forget in Waco.
Here's what we learned.
1) Get Jalen Jones going early
Fans from the BCG era will remember Dominique Kirk, our lockdown defender with extremely sporadic offensive output. Kirk was always going to give you 40 minutes of great defense, but his game on the other end was driven by his first few possessions. If he got a couple of early looks to go down, he'd shoot with confidence all night... but if he couldn't get involved early, that part of his game would completely shut down.
Jones appears to be wired the same way. Tonight, Mr. Jones got involved early and often en route to his best game of the season. 27 points, 8 rebounds, 11-13 from the field, and 4-4 from downtown. Just an absolutely fantastic shooting night. When he plays with confidence, this team looks good. Let's dial in 3-4 plays for him before the first media break on a regular basis.
2) The Double-Edged Alex Caruso Sword
The things that make Caruso so effective (constant activity on defense, always going for steals, always looking for the killer pass) can also get him in trouble, and tonight was one of those nights. Alex picked up his second foul with 9:26 remaining in the first half, and Billy Kennedy elected to keep him in the game with two fouls (he had previously benched him for the remainder of the half in similar situations).
The result was.... a different guy. When he's aware of foul trouble, he's just not the same. His night never really got back on track, as he finished with his worst stat line (2 points, 3 assists, 2 turnovers) of the season.
3) Fouls, foul shots, and other foul related things
If the phrase includes the word "foul," we did it poorly tonight. For starters, the Aggies shot 8-15 (53%) from the charity stripe, which will drop their SEC-worst percentage (63%) even further. It's an issue that we have to clean up, as this squad needs to win most of their "coin flip" games against fellow second-tier SEC squads if they want to make a legitimate postseason tournament. The easiest way to do that is to take care of business from the stripe.
It wasn't just free throws, though. The Ags closed down wayyyyy late on multiple threes, sending the Penguins to the line for three shots and even creating the rarely-seen four point play. While it's true that we have the guard depth to handle foul trouble at the 1-3 spots, it doesn't mean we have to use it. The team avoided foul trouble overall, but we still had a few mental lapses 25 feet from the basket.
I'm admittedly picking nits in sections #2 and #3, because it was great to see Jalen Jones and Danuel House carry the load tonight and lead us to 81 points with so little involvement from Caruso. Alex Robinson chipped in with his best all around game of the season (7 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists), and when the outside shot is falling at that clip (55% 3PT; 61% FG), we can play with anybody. The Penguins offensive rebounding (12-9 advantage on the offensive boards) was annoying given their height, but overall it was a good effort heading into a seven day break before KSU.