By the end of it, Coach Pearl had sweat above his brow, he was out of breath and his face was purple. I haven’t seen one of those from him in awhile….and I loved it! Coach Pearl let our guys have it prior to practice on Monday. Our identity had been forgotten about. We were no longer the tougher team game in and game out. More importantly, the toughness we were bringing every day in practice had taken a back seat to a “let’s get through this practice and on to our next game” attitude. As of Monday, the message from the boss had been made LOUD and clear: anything short of toughness and giving your best everyday will not be tolerated.
We responded to his message with a performance that we have been waiting awhile for. A game in which we dictated from start to finish with consistent effort and execution against a team in LSU that we were supposed to beat. No disrespect to LSU, but we are the much better team this year. The encouraging thing is that we did not play down to the level of our competition. In our preparation all week we consistently discussed focusing on the little things and I believe it paid off. We executed the game plan with a greater level of toughness and urgency then we had in our previous contests.
34% FG defense, 20 assists and only 7 turnovers and +8 rebounding margin were the three team statistical categories our staff discussed after the game. We did a really good job of defending their first shot offense time and time again. However, we were not pleased that we gave up 12 offensive rebounds. This is the third game in a row that we have allowed a guy to get his own rebound after taking a jump shot because we did not box out. We must work on this. Our guards must do a better job of “rebounding down.” Sharing the ball quickly and purposefully against their zone was vital to our offensive success. I thought our second unit of Trae Golden, Skylar McBee, Josh Bone, Steven Pearl and Brian Williams did a great job. They advance passed it, executed our play calls and had very good energy throughout.
We will need everybody to bring another stepped-up effort to get a W vs. Ole Miss this weekend. Everybody wants to talk about how this staff has never won there and how Oxford is such a difficult place to play but I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. Sure road games are a little more difficult than a home game because you don’t have your home crowd and you are out of your comfort zone, but isn’t saying “we don’t play well there” just a built-in excuse? You still are just playing basketball. No matter if you’re playing home, away, or on an aircraft carrier like Michigan State will next year, it still boils down to execution of little things and not allowing yourself to become distracted by exterior things. As Coach Jones discussed in his pre- and post-game speech vs. LSU, all of our team goals are still obtainable but are we willing to change and keep progressing from here on out? Are we willing to become a tougher team, physically and more importantly mentally? I don’t care how much talent you have, if you aren’t mentally tough you will be mediocre.
Today Coach Pearl will return to practice to help us get prepared for Ole Miss. A day after the game with a quick turnaround, our preparation will consist of a lot of film watching, extra shooting and a light weight-lifting session. We will then have a short but physical practice and get our last game planning implementation from Coach Pearl tomorrow afternoon before we leave him and fly out to Oxford in attempt to keep building on solidifying the identity he revitalized with Monday’s message.