The Toros came into this game laving lost their last three, and eight of their last 10. Basically, as soon as the calendar turned to March, Austin went from having the D-League's best record to being overtaken not just by division rival Colorado, but by Utah and Idaho as well.
Of course, a few things have happened to the Toros in the last month. DerMarr Johnson, DeMarcus Nelson and Malik Hairston all joined the team (though Johnson has since departed), and incorporating three players who all expect to play heavy minutes would be a challenge for any team, let alone one featuring RU's #1 call-up prospect, Marcus Williams, a guy who's used to seeing the ball a lot himself. Compounding that challenge was the fact that the team also played a total of one game at the Austin Convention Center the entire month, and had to have grown weary from all that travel.
Tulsa, for their part, broke even for the month of March, going 6-6, though coming in they'd won their last four games, including a dreadful one against Bakersfield. They also lost two key players last week, as both Shaun Livingston and DJ White were called up by the Oklahoma City Thunder. DJ White returned to the team a few days later, however, and was joined by Thunder guard Kyle Weaver.
As for the game, Austin got out to a fast start and never looked back. After leading 31-13 after the first quarter and scoring 100 by the end of the third, Austin did a relatively good job keeping the tempo up at a rate befitting its lineup - think about it, they start four guys who could play in the NBA right now. Even with DJ White and Kyle Weaver, Tulsa just couldn't keep up with that level of talent. The 66ers were able to get the lead down to nine about midway through the fourth quarter by trapping and pressing (and they forced Austin into an eight second violation earlier in the game), but the Toros were eventually able to beat it by a.) throwing long passes to a wide-open player like Hairston or Bright, or b.) Marcus Williams is good enough to beat the trap by himself, thank you very much.
For such a fast-paced game (about 100 possessions for Austin, 103 for Tulsa), the refs called it pretty tightly. 58 total fouls called, and Malik Hairston, Keith Clark and DJ White all fouled out while Dwayne Jones, Ryan Bright and Derrick Dial each finished with five. Due to Jones's foul trouble, the Toros went with a lineup of Williams-Burrell-Hairston-Nelson-Bright for the last four and a half minutes of the third quarter. Scott, any thoughts on Scott Twardoski?
Notes on individual players after the jump.
Marcus Williams, Austin - Williams looked like the best player on the floor. Looked like? Was. DeMarcus Nelson was named the player of the game (and was, in fact, good), but check this out: 9-18 shooting for 26 points for Williams, 10 assists, seven rebounds and only two turnovers in over 46 minutes spent as the team's point man. He could've had more, but there were several times where he was isolated against Keith Clark and settled for jumpers (which missed) instead of taking Clark off the dribble, as he easily could have. Williams is more of a finesse finisher around the basket, but he does it well. Beyond the numbers, Williams showed solid leadership on the floor, getting guys in the right places without coming off as being annoying or bossy. He also had a good sense of when to push the break and when to pull back. Basically, if there were every any questions as to whether Marcus Williams deserved the #1 call-up ranking, this game answered them. If I have to find one thing to nitpick about Williams, it's that sometimes when he's defending along the perimeter, he gives his man a little too much space to move and create and sometimes relies just on his length to defend rather than getting in there.
Malik Hairston, Austin - Hairston played a solid game, shooting the ball very well (10-13) and showing a decent rebounding ability. He also had a nice block on Moses Ehambe at one point, and on one defensive play early on he sagged off his man a little too early, allowing an easy 2 from DJ White. One thing I liked a lot about Hairston is that he talks on D and calls out oncoming screens. He also has a pretty nice three point shot. I wish I had more to say about Hairston, but foul trouble limited his playing time in the second half.
DeMarcus Nelson, Austin - As I mentioned earlier, Nelson was named player of the game, and it's a defensible choice. He led all scorers with 29 points on 10-19 shooting, six rebounds and only one turnover in a little under 45 minutes in a game where he handled the ball a little bit. One reason for his relatively-high field goal percentage is that he drives to the basket. A lot. He doesn't have a great outside shot, and seems to know it. He almost never catches-and-shoots, instead almost always faking a shot first. The defenders never really went for it, and the times when they dared him to shoot - and he did - more often than not resulted in him hitting the front of the rim. Driving to the basket as often as he does is generally a good idea, though there were several instances where he drove right into traffic. He was able to get fouled in most of those cases, but the refs might not always be so apt to blow the whilste, and it could get him stuck on occasion. He also guarded Kyle Weaver a fair amount, and Weaver was able to drive past him pretty easily.
Dwayne Jones, Austin - Jones finished with solid numbers, but watching the game it seemed like he wasn't playing with much energy. There were several plays where he was slow to set screens, and I can't help but feel as if he should've had more rebounds than the 12 he finished with. Still, even though he acquired five fouls, and was called for a highly-questionable three second violation he never seemed to let them frustrate him. He also seemed to really focus on his free throws, and after missing his first two of the game, he only missed three more the rest of the way, going 12-17 from the line overall. Still, the more I watch Jones the more I wish he had better post moves. There were several times he shot from right next to the basket and missed. He was usually fouled, but those should've been and-1's instead of two shots. The Austin offense also has a slight tendency to stagnate when they feed the ball to Jones in the post, with everyone pretty much standing around while he tries not to the dribble the ball off his foot and throws awkward half-hook shots in the general direction of the rim.
Kyle Weaver, Tulsa - He had a pretty quiet game, at least compared to what I was expecting. He shot 3-10 for 10 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists, but he really only periodically drove to the basket even though he could get by Nelson whenever he wanted. Many times it seemed as if he brought the ball up, started the play then left his teammates to their own devices. That sounds harsh, but one possibility is that since this was his first game with the 66ers, either he or the coaches wanted to ease him into the offense. Weaver also had three steals and two blocks, but also missed all of his three point attempts.
DJ White, Tulsa - White played fairly well, when he played. I wasn't watching him too closely in the first half but wanted to do so in the second, but again, foul trouble limited him to less than two and a half minutes in the third quarter and three minutes in the fourth. The vast majority of his shots came from mid-range, and he showed a nice stroke, connecting on 10 of his 13 attempts White has a pretty good wingspan, though at times that's all he relies on to collect rebounds. I also didn't see him put the ball on the floor too much, but I get the impression he's not great at it.
There weren't really too many other notable players in the game except for maybe Ryan Bright, and I'm saving most of what I have on him for the upcoming Toros wrap-up. He started tonight, though, for the second game in a row, and his main functions seem to be a.) inbounding the ball to Williams while the other Toros head down the court, and b.) being a general nuisance on defense. He had a decent game, though. Jones' foul troubles should've opened an opportunity to Austin's backup center Serge Angounou, but he didn't really take advantage. He had two rebounds in his three minutes of play and hit both of his foul shots, but he had a hard time handling his defensive assignments. He can't dribble very well, and if he has the ball, and he's pressured, he'll likely cough it up. Watching him during the second-half shootaround, he also has kind of a long windup when shooting, bringing the ball up from below his waist. Tulsa had several players whose final numbers look decent, but they were so far behind for so long in this game that it's hard to call them good performances. Ryan Humphrey had a pretty good game for the 66ers, including a nice, clean block on Dwayne Jones that made the crowd say "oooooh"