MURRAY---After the first half, it was clear, the Racers were going to suffocate Southern on the defensive end. They allowed just 17 points through the first 20 minutes and ended up winning 69-49.
The first basket of the game for Southern came at the 13:40 mark in the first half, over six minutes into the game. The intensity on the defensive end was a consistent force with every player head coach Matt McMahon rolled out.
"We scouted them pretty well so we knew everything they were going to do coming into the game," Tevin Brown said.
With the defensive effort, the Racers were able to pull away despite poor shooting themselves. The three-point line was not friendly to either squad with the Racers shooting 1-8 and the Jaguars going 0-9. At the halftime horn, the Racers led 30-17. It's the first time holding a Division I opponent under 20 in a half at home since Feb. 12, 2015, against SIUE (40-16).
What stood out about the first half besides the defense, was the depth once again of the Racers lineup. McMahon played nine different guys and tested out several combinations and that was expected with a team playing in their first regular-season game and a group that has as much talent as they do.
"I'm sure we'll see 9-10 guys like we have been," Brown said. "I feel like our depth chart is deeper than what it was last year, as far as us having three or four different point guards and then we have four or five different wings. So, I feel like unless somebody really steps up and explodes then we'll have that many subs this year."
The rotation will continue to be a work in progress early on and McMahon said a lot of that is because of the lack of game experience from his roster.
"Here's the reality of our situation," McMahon said. "Eight of our 14 guys didn't play last year. Three of our top six have missed between six-nine months to injury in the last calendar year, and our junior point guard is averaging 19 points and six assists a game in the National Basketball Association. So, we're going to be a work in progress on that offensive end of the floor. We're going to be a work in progress in defining roles for the team, but that's why I'm thrilled sitting here tonight 1-0 because our guys played their tails off tonight. The things we made mistakes on are fixable and if we come in and work hard we'll continue to get better each and every game."
In the second half, the Racers defense was less effective, but the offense woke up and they were able to maintain a sizeable lead throughout.
"I was really thrilled with our guys' effort and focus especially at the defensive end of the floor," McMahon said. "Thought we really competed hard at that end. Communication was good. They put a lot of pressure on you with their dribble drive offense. Coach Williams has always done a terrific job with that and I thought our guys did a really nice job defending and cleaning up on the defensive glass."
A lot of the focus this year will be put on the new three-point line and for a team that puts so much emphasis on defending it and rebounding well, so safe to say McMahon was pleased with the effort of holding the Jaguars to 3-22 for the game form the arc.
"We know the importance of the line and no matter what kind of defense you play, at the end of the day if you don't contest shots and you don't rebound then it doesn't matter," McMahon said. "I thought our guys' effort to challenge every shot that was taken tonight, whether from the paint or the three-point line, was very good. We were around 80% defensive rebounding rate which should be good for us as the season progresses."
While the defense held up, the offense was inconsistent. Again, that's to be expected, but the bright side was that the looks they were getting weren't bad. Shots just weren't falling.
"Offensive end of the floor there's a lot of room for improvement, but it's opening night and a 20-point win and I'm really thrilled for our guys to start the season 1-0."
McMahon said the issue with turnovers came from trying to "hit the homerun instead of taking the singles." As this team continues to grow and learn the little things they will improve and there is plenty to be excited about with this group this season.
KJ Williams finished with a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), Tevin Brown led the way with 17 points, and Anthony Smith 10 points and seven rebounds.
Chico Carter led the way in assists with five. He also added nine points and was 5-5 from the free-throw line.
The Racers shot 22-32 at the free-throw line, 3-16 from deep, and 22-48 from the field. They forced 14 turnovers and committed 21 turnovers themselves. The Jaguars had eight blocked shots and the Racers had five.
They will next be in action Tuesday on the road in Knoxville as they take on the Tennessee Volunteers at 8 p.m.