OVC Ball Statbox
|5-0 (0-0 OVC)|
|1-4 (0-0 MAAC)|
|28/54 (51.9%)||Field Goals||19/54 (35.2%)|
|6/14 (42.9%)||3-Point FG||8/25 (32.0%)|
|10/19 (52.6%)||Free Throws||12/25 (48.0%)|
|45 (14/31)||Rebounds (O/D)||31 (12/19)|
|11||2nd Chance Pts||2|
|16||Points off TO||15|
|36||Pts in the Paint||16|
Tempo Tracker (Possessions)
Tennessee St. offense
Not to sound like PR notes, but in Tennessee State’s entire Division I history, dating back to 1977, the Tigers had never been 5-0 to start the season. Even with their recent successes — 20 win seasons under former head coach John Cooper and current head coach Dana Ford, the Tigers hadn’t even just won their first two games of the season since 2002.
That’s not the case this season. And the “how” behind their spotless start is even more impressive than the feat itself.
Tennessee State has yet to play at the Gentry Center. They’ve traveled across the coast to California, where they won three games against teams all from much closer. They then flew back to Tennessee, beating the defending CUSA champion Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
And then they hopped another flight, this time far to the north…
…where they thumped a Canisius team that another OVC contender, UT Martin, struggled with just two days prior.
Teams aren’t supposed to fly thousands of miles and win games. They’re not supposed to win three games on back-to-back-to-back nights two time zones over, and they’re certainly not supposed to do all that without hitting 80 points one single time.
For the past few seasons, I’ve lamented the lack of defense in the OVC; decried how it’s the reason the conference can’t get those wins in March they once strung together over a four year period.
Teams aren’t supposed to fly thousands of miles and win games
It’s still early — but by all indicators, Tennessee State is bringing a dominant defense back…to a conference that’s been defined in recent years by the flashy shooting of the Bruins, Racers, and for four days last March, Governors.
If you ask Ford, though — tonight didn’t even fully show what this team is capable of.
“There were spurts where we didn’t play necessarily well, but we played a lot of lineups today,” Ford said after the win. “We haven’t really practiced a lot lately because of the game schedule, traveling, and stuff like that. So we got a little sloppy.”
Tennessee State used a 19-1 first-half run, holding Canisius without a field goal over a 7:59 span, and from there cruised to a 72-58 win over a young Griffs team. Canisius hit just 19-54 (35.2%) from the field, and 8-25 (32%) from three-point range in the loss.
While Ford doesn’t give his team full credit for the Griffins poor shooting, it’s part of a theme that’s clearly emerged throughout the young season. The Tigers defense has held opponents to 43% shooting, 30% three-point shooting, and rank in the top 1/3 nationally in defensive rebounding over their five wins, while forcing more than 15 turnovers a game and blocking 13% of all shot attempts.
What makes it especially deadly is that the Tigers defense…is led by quite possible their best offensive player.
“He’s a coach’s dream,” Ford said. “He does turn the ball over, but he does steal it from the other team. And he’s basically unguardable off the bounce.”
A lot of OVC writers (even myself) pronounced Evan Bradds as the best player in the OVC during the offseason. There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind who would be named the OVC preseason player of the year, and in our minds, no doubt who would be named to that same award at the end of the season.
Tahjere McCall might have something big to say about that.
[McCall’s] a coach’s dream…he’s basically unguardable off the bounce.”
McCall might not even have been the most impressive Tiger on the floor tonight. He scored a co-team high 14 points, and had six assists and four steals; but Wayne Martin had 14 points of his own, along with 14 rebounds. Jordan Reed was also in the double-double club, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Delano Spencer came off the bench for 12 points of his own.
Tennessee State is talented. They’re deep. And they play defense like no team I can remember since the 2011-12 Murray State Racers.
That’s high praise, but one that’s currently warranted.
For at least two years, I’ve been pleading, begging that someone would bring back dominant defenses.
Tennessee State may just the be answer I’m looking for, and Belmont may be in for it’s toughest OVC fight yet.
Blame the sight-line? Both teams struggle from the free-throw line.
Canisius was a paltry 12-25 (48%) from the free-throw line in the loss, but Tennessee State wasn’t a whole lot better, hitting 10-19 (52.6%) from the charity stripe. In tonight’s edition of “weirdest stat I could find,” TSU has benefited quite a lot from opposing teams free-throw struggles: Tigers’ opponents are shooting just 57.5% from the charity stripe on the season. Three of those teams were playing in their home gym!
Tigers among most experienced teams in the nation
Another fun statistic for you: TSU’s players average 2.27 years of experience, per KenPom, 28th most in the nation. With guys like McCall, Reed, and Martin all graduating this season — this has to be the year if TSU’s going to break up the Bruins party.
But what about the Tigers SOS? You just wrote yesterday that they hadn’t played anyone?
Well, yes and no. Canisius is 1-4…and they’re likely not even sniffing an NCAA Tournament bid this year. But MTSU is a good win, and so are UC Davis and Santa Clara, especially given where both games were played. Other than the Blue Raiders, there’s not really a great “benchmark” game on the Tigers’ non-conference slate: a game against a team in that 90-150 RPI range, where good OVC teams often finish. Vanderbilt next Tuesday may be the closest: the Commodores currently rank 79th in KenPom, and they beat the Bruins by 14 earlier this year.
Of course, the Tigers start off conference season on December 31st with their only game against Murray State…in Murray. That will be a pretty good benchmark…