“This is my second game so I feel like I’m getting into the offense more and being more aggressive in practice,” said Johnson, who missed much of fall workouts with a foot injury. And getting that first bucket to fall was a confidence boost he added.
”That was my first college point so I was happy about that,” said Johnson, who finished two-for-five from the field four-for-four from the line.
“He took a step forward,” Ken Bone said of Johnson. “I can’t wait to when he can show everybody what he can really do, but it’ll come. He was better today than last week and he was better last week than the week before.”
The victory improved the Cougs to 2-0 as they now gear for a trip to Spokane to face Gonzaga on Thursday at 6 p.m..
After basing the starting lineup last week in the season-opener against Cal-State Bakersfield on rebounding efficiency, Bone said his starting lineup against Lamar was more about speed. The Cougars’ starting lineup consisted of guards DaVonte Lacy, Royce Woolridge and Dexter Kernich-Drew alongside forwards Will DiIorio and Junior Longrus.
“They’re (Lamar) really small, so we just decided to go smaller. In fact that was a struggle at times, we were big but we weren’t really gaining an advantage being the bigger team so we tried to go small and quick to match them,” Bone said.
The small-ball approach still resulted in a notable Cougar advantage on the glass. They outrebounded the Cardinals 38-29 and came up with 12 offensive boards. Bone said assistant coach Curtis Allen deserves the credit for preparing the team to dominate the glass without necessarily packing the paint.
“He orchestrates the different drills, talks to the guys, shows them video in regards to rebounding. I think he’s done a really good job again this year of getting the guys motivated to rebounding,” Bone said. Sometimes it’s misleading, you can be right by the hoop but then you get into a physical battle for a rebound. When you’re way out there on the perimeter, it’s hard to screen a guy off that’s determined to go get it,” Bone said.
On defense, the Cougars look to be steadily adjusting to the NCAA’s new defensive rules. They avoided the foul trouble that plagued so many players last week, tallying just 15 total. Lacy said the adjustment isn’t complete just yet, with the team still needing improvement on the block/charge call. But stopping the dribble-drive is starting to shape up, he said.
“On the ball, I feel like we did a better job than we did last week and we just got to continue to improve,” said Lacy, who led all scorers with 21 points. “It’s just playing more. When something is new you got to keep doing it and doing it and then it becomes normal to you. We just gotta keep playing more in practice like it and in the game we gotta feel out the refs and see how they’re calling it.”
The Cougars deployed their new high-pressure man-to-man defense, but also used matchup zone defense to impede direct drives to the hoop. Lamar put up only 20 free throws.
“It (zone defense) needs to contribute to keeping players from penetrating in the paint as easily as they’re able to against our man (-to-man defense),” Bone said. “But our man’s gotta get better too. They were hard to guard, they were pretty quick. They did a nice job the second half of getting the ball to the high post and really attacking us off the bounce at the high post and that’s hard to defend.”
“Like everybody else, I think around the country, I was talking to an official during the game he said ‘hey, your complaints are no different than anyone else’s, it’s nationwide. The rules have changed and we all need to adapt,” Bone said.
AFTER A DOMINATING START, the Cougars went in the tank for a stretch in the second half that narrowed their lead from 18 to four. Lacy said the team could feel the energy in the building dropping and that’s when they knew they needed to turn it around. The Lamar run came to a halt after Lacy checked in and immediately drove to the bucket for a finger-roll layup.
Bone said his lineup combinations attributed to the Cardinals’ run because he didn’t have the correct combination to properly break the full-court press Lamar switched to. The Cougars remained poised, adapting to the press, and eventually extending the lead to 22 with a little more than two minutes left to play.
“I like the fact that we didn’t panic. I think we’ve talked about this for a couple games and hopefully we won’t discuss it every game, hopefully we get a lead and be able to maintain that lead but it’s hard. You know other teams that are behind usually at some point are going to make a run and they did, and they did a good job it,” Bone said.
The highlight of the night came in the second half when Kernich-Drew stole the ball and finished at the other end with a 360-degree dunk, something Lacy said would have had the Australian native making an early trip back home if it had gone wrong.
“If he doesn’t make that he’s on the first flight back to Australia,” Lacy said.
Kernich-Drew turned in a nice night offensively after a woeful 0-for-5 shooting effort against Bakersfield. He hit 6 of 13 shots from the field and finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Cougar posts Jordan Railey and Josh Hawkinson played a combined 18 minutes and collected three fouls. That’s notable because against Bakersfield last week they tallied a collective eight fouls in a combined 14 minutes of action. Their time vs. Lamar was also productive. Railey had six rebounds and two points, Hawkinson four points and two rebounds.
The Cougars were more balanced on offense vs. Lamar than they were a week ago when Lacy was effectively a one-man show. Three players (Woolridge, Lacy and Kernich-Drew) logged double-digit attempts and three scored in double figures: Lacy (21), Ike Iroegbu (13) and Kernich-Drew (15).
The small-ball game didn’t allow for senior forward D.J. Shelton to see much action. He played only 11 minutes, scoring just two points, grabbing three rebounds and recording one block.
Junior point guard Royce Woolridge logged the most court time of any Cougar, with 31 minutes. He had nine points, three assists and two rebounds.
Sophomore forward Brett Boese played just six minutes, but made them count, hitting two three-pointers in the first half.
Attendance for the game was announed at 2,593, but the eye test suggested some seriously funny math was being used to calculate.