With Friday being the eve of the Florida game and subsequent Eastern Division title, I'm sure comparatively few Gamecock fans were awaiting the start of basketball season. And given that the team is very young and inexperienced, that's even less of a draw to a football-oriented fanbase. However, seeing as basketball is arguably my first love, I took in the Elon game and was very impressed with what I saw.
Before I get into specifics, I'll go ahead and toss out a disclaimer: It was "just" Elon, it's only the first game of a long season and the team still has work to do. That said, there's plenty to feel good about after a 94-79 win, especially after we came out flat in our exhibition game.
- Intensity. This team played like their hair was on fire. The speed, aggression, and overall energy on both ends of the court was very refreshing and fun to watch. It did lead to some sloppy plays (errant passes, bad misses, dumb fouls), but it was the kind of effort that could have won us more games last year.
- Lakeem Jackson could very well be our breakout player of the year. He has added to virtually every area of his game while bringing the same hustle he had last season. Not only did he make a few jump shots, he also made his first career three-pointer. Yes, you read that correctly: Lakeem Jackson made a three-pointer. Anyway, it's vital that our upperclassmen step up and take the reins of this team, and I'm glad to see that Jackson seems to have answered the call.
- On a similar note, Sam Muldrow was beasting all night long with several blocks and thunderous dunks. He ended up leading all scorers with 20. He's been capable of that kind of performance all along, so I hope he can keep it up.
- In what was a pleasant surprise, Ramon Galloway ended up playing a good chunk of minutes. (He was unlikely to be back before December with a foot fracture.) He didn't look out of shape or out of sync at all, hitting some nice jumpers and a few threes. Having him not only back, but so close to 100% is huge for us, especially in our rather brutal out-of-conference schedule.
- The scoring was incredibly balanced. We had six players in double digits and almost everyone scored. We finished with 23 assists as well, which is a far cry from just about any game last year. (We probably went weeks at a time without that many assists.) Again, it was refreshing to see that so many guys were capable of contributing instead of letting the load fall on one player's shoulders.
- To that end, Bruce Ellington may not be the next Devan Downey, but he is an extremely capable point guard all the same. He can score if he needs to, but he's unselfish with the ball and is good at facilitating opportunities for his teammates. He's going to be a central figure to this team, but I believe he'll have much more help than Downey did.
Anyway, as I said before, it was only Elon and there's still work to do; we did let them back into the game late, and free throws and rebounding continue to be weak spots. But overall it was still a dominating performance that I don't think anyone expected. I figured we would struggle to put them away and maybe eke out a 10-point victory, with a loss being entirely possible. But instead we never trailed and led by as much as 24. Win or lose -- and this will be a tough year, I think -- this team will be fun to watch. Horn finally has "his" players and his up-tempo system is running at its best yet.