Friday, November 6, 2015
Toupane, Byrd Impress Despite Exhibition Losses
Those goals were achieved as Gannon hung with Pitt early before falling Friday night, 80-50, and then ran out of gas at George Washington Saturday, 92-47. And we got the bonus, too. Gannon led ACC heavyweight Pitt at the second media timeout, 7-6, with 11:47 to play in the first half. (See the photo accompanying this post if you don't believe me.) The Knights never had an advantage at GW, but did tie the game at 10 after falling behind 10-0.
The biggest question I had going into the season was where will the points come from? Two players who impressed me the most when Gannon had the ball were senior Jean Yves Toupane and freshman C.J. Byrd. Toupane led all scorers at Pitt with 21 but more importantly looked comfortable on the perimeter and moved well without the ball to get himself open. Last year Toupane was often the fifth option on the floor. This year he will often be the focus, and he responded confidently and aggressively. Byrd hit double figures both nights -- 10 vs. the Panthers and 16 vs. the Colonials -- but it wasn't like he just hit wide open shots. Byrd showed a quick release off the catch, an ability to drive by his man, and the skills to catch, fake, then hit a one-dribble pull-up from 20+ feet away. I don't want to overreact and say he's the next Adam Blazek, but those are two of very few Golden Knights who could pull off that move with success.
My biggest concern comes on the defensive side, but not because the Knights allowed 80+ points in both games. The officials called the games so ridiculously close, I fear Gannon's aggressive D may be neutralized this season by the NCAA's point of emphasis to "reduce physicality." If games are consistently called this close, John Reilly may need to quit coaching and go sell life insurance. In the Gannon/Slippery Rock games, both teams will foul out their entire roster and be forced to play the final minutes with intramural players.
After committing an average of 19 fouls a game last year, GU was whistled for 30 and 36 personals this weekend. George Washington was in the bonus just 3:55 into the game and nearly duplicated that feat in the second half when Gannon committed its 7th team foul just 5:24 in. Tony Boykins fouled out of the GW game with 18:29 to play after committing three fouls in a span of 82 seconds. I certainly don't want games to resemble wresting matches or return to the pre-flagrant foul era of the NBA, but calling every moment contact is made sucks the life out of the game. If I wanted to only watch free throws, I'd buy tickets to watch this guy.
Other thoughts on the exhibition weekend:
* Because of the complexity of Reilly's defensive rotations, it wasn't a giant surprise to see four returnees (Toupane, Boykins, Isaiah Eisendorf, and Marcus Jones) in the starting lineup. It was interesting to see the 6-foot-3 Boykins -- a wing player last season listed as a guard on this year's roster -- open at power forward both games. He posted up strong against much taller DI bigs and showed abilities on the block that should work against PSAC opponents.
* After seeing redshirt senior Jon Dogbo miss all of his shots in just 8 minutes at Pitt, I was happy to see him score 5 points (on 2-for-5 shooting) at GW. I expect Dogbo to be an impact player this year after practicing with last year's club, but he'll need the first few weeks to acclimate to game action.
* Speaking of adapting to a faster pace of play, freshmen Ian Gardener and Cyril Clarke looked nervous both games, hitting the backboard on jumpers, bobbling the ball, and committing unforced turnovers. It reminded me of when I would get into games. Despite hours of practice, your mouth gets dry, you can't feel your legs, and the ball feels like it's overinflated by about 50 psi. That feeling will wear off with more playing time. Or so I've been told.
* Gannon faced full court pressure both nights and didn't handle it well at GW. After committing 17 turnovers at Pitt, the Knights had a dreadful 29 vs. the Colonials' trapping D.
* Gannon was respectable on the boards despite being grossly outsized at every position. GU lost the rebounding battle to Pitt just 41-34 and were even with George Washington, 36-36.
* GW freshman Jordan Roland -- who looked sensational while scoring 10 points -- has an Erie connection. His father Rahsaah Roland starred for Mercyhurst as a diminutive point guard in the mid-90s. Thank goodness the kid didn't choose to play at his dad's alma mater.
* And major kudos to my wife Barbara for figuring out how to air the Gannon/GW game on our living room television. More evidence I married way up.