Winners: (Women) UTSA over UTEP 58-57 in OT, FIU over FAU 68-60. (Men) Marshall 74-62 over FIU, Southern Miss 67-64 over UTSA.
The first day of any event has some hiccups. One fan reported the scanner returned a red ‘X’ upon showing her ticket. Another staffer came over, looked at the ticket and result and said “Yeah it looks good you can go on ahead.” A league staffer had a laptop die on them. “I had to run to Best Buy 25 minutes before the first game.” Elsewhere, new interns were looking for elevators (just down that hall). First-time media members were looking for the food (media room, third floor).
For everyone not playing the games, there is room to adjust to those mistakes. The crowd was thin, and so was the group covering the media table. “I like the first day of the tournament because it is easy to get to the family restrooms.” said one fan. “Is there a Southern Miss beat guy here?” (there wasn’t).
This is the most full-on return since the 2019 version. Last year was pandemic-adjusted, and CR was covering things via television. This year we are in person and I am happy to report there are better scoreboards this time. Instead of being sat in the corners, the league has them hanging nicely at each end of the court.
The start of things saw UTSA beat UTEP in overtime, with a half-court heave off the mark and sending a dejected Miner squad home. The interesting thing about it all was not the game, although it was entertaining, but the bands seated basically next to each other. I did not get a chance to ask, but it seems they coordinate the playing with each other, taking turns playing sets. The drummers nearly all appreciate each other’s playing, and a good portion of each band will dance to the other’s music. The dance squads also do a little comparing and contrasting, with some groups making a little fun of the others. FIU brought so many dancers that they left some in the little dancer pen.
There was also coordination of support. UTSA’s band, having cheered and jeered and heckled on Court A (the UTSA women’s win) coordinated the move for the start of the men’s game on Court B. “Go to the concourse, take your stuff, and we’ll set up there!” shouted the band director.
Marshall 74 FIU 62
In the preview we were high on Clevon Brown’s abilities, and he disappointed. He had his chances — he missed a dunk and missed a few bunnies. That could have been all the difference, as Tevin Brewer returned to the lineup and scored 23 for FIU. Instead it was Obinna Anochili-Killen that was too much for FIU. We noted his ability in the team-specific preview (premium stuff, folks). D’Antoni noted after the game how good he is and will be, because of how hard he plays and how smart he is. He came out and hit a couple of threes, defended, rebounded, and overall was impressive. Marshall was simply locked in, and their length bothered FIU’s guards.
“You are really small, how do you carry a team?” asked the Marshall band, and well that was part of the game plan. D’Antoni noted that the defensive plan was to stay in front of him, and bother his shot by keeping a hand up. “He’s only 5’8”, he said. Still, Brewer had 23, and FIU hung around. He hit a step-back bucket after some good defending by Marshall’s David Early. The Herd do not have the most fleet-footed bigs, but they were unbothered by the FIU screens, barreling through them to harass Brewer. In the end, it was the little things like Denver Jones losing a pass because it slipped from his fingers, or Clevon Brown getting good position and missing 2-footers (1 of 9 on the night).
Also great? Mikel Beyers with two ridiculous dunks. He had 14 on just 3 of 13 shooting, but it was his aggression that was an indicator of how passionate the team was playing. They looked locked in, and the coach and Kinsey said in the post game they thought the previous loss to FIU was because they did not play with the same energy. They wanted to correct that tonight and did.
Southern Miss 67 UTSA 64
This game between two terrible squads was entertaining. On the pre-preview we noted that getting a couple of poor squads together for a game will at least produce some entertainment. We were entertained. USM had Tyler Stevenson, and Jaron Pierre, Jr back on the squad. In the postgame, USM head coach Jay Ladner noted the benefit to having had those injuries: building depth. Denijay Harris and Jeffery Armstrong. The latter played 29 minutes and went 0-3, but had 5 assists one of his two steals was huge. The Stevenson-Jacob Germany battle was fun, as the latter scored 28 to Stevenson’s 22. It was Tyler Stevenson that came up biggest, with five big points in the final 3 minutes, and one stop of Germany.
Stevenson blocked Germany once, too. JG got his revenge, by scoring and drawing contact, and getting offensive rebounds. Here is a sequence for you:
- Stevenson bucket +foul makes a four-point game a one-pointer at 2:53
- Napper draws a charge on Darius McNeill
- Jaron Pierre, Jr, back from injury, hits a 3 from the corner
- Germany puts a Dieng miss in to tie it, through Stevenson, but misses the free throw.
- Napper gets a tough bucket plus a foul, flexes, and misses his free throw
- Eric Czumbel drives in for a lefty lay-in, something that was there all night.
- Walyn Napper rescues a trapped Jeff Armstrong at midcourt, drives into the lane, floats a lob to Tyler Stevenson to put USM up two, 66-64 with :47 left.
- Dieng misses a step-back three. Jacob Germany rebounds, bodies Stevenson, who lets out an audible “gruh” and goes up. The ball rolls around and falls out. Stevenson with the rebound.
- He misses the first of two free throws, but makes the second.
- Czumbel drives, stops, kicks it out to Dieng. He tries a out-of-rhythm three that misses badly. Rebound USM
- Offensive foul on USM (Pinckney pushes Dieng)
- Dieng misses a three on the inbound.
Dhieu Deng finished 0-9, including 0-8 from distance.