Thomas and Dentmon Lead Toros to 2-1 Start
The first in a weekly series of Toros reports
By Will Schmidt,
5:29PM, Wed. Dec. 7, 2011
Well, Toros fans, our NBA D-League team from Austin is unfortunately not going to go undefeated this season (break it to your children with cautious warmth). I know, with the ultramagnetic talent that coach Brad Jones and staff have accumulated, the team seemed unbeatable, and after two games, the Toros were just that.
First, a face-off against the Texas Legends that went the distance, with the Toros creeping ahead for good in the final seconds thanks to the scientific moves of new-blooded guard Justin Dentmon and his 28 points and 7 assists. Next came a home-and-away, back-to-back, Austin-to-Tulsa showdown against the then-undefeated Tulsa 66ers.
The first game was special, a home opener for the ages. I was there. I saw it. So please, take my word. All of the offensive magic that seemed so effortless in the first game against the Legends, well, it seemed to have vanished like a flat basketball rolling down a green hill covered in sunshine. The first half was downright sloppy, as the starting unit couldn't seem to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. All eyes pointed to Dentmon, making his first home start – and as with many talented guards in the history of basketball, young Justin Dentmon was trying a little too hard to keep the good times rolling over from the close victory against the Legends a few nights previous. After the first half, the Toros were in the doldrums of field goal percentage, shooting barely 29% as a team. With numbers like that who needs second halves, right? Well, thankfully the Toros aren't quitters. In their first-half favor, they'd been getting to the free throw line quite regularly, something they'd continue in the second half, converting on 29 of 35 for the game (a very strong 85%). Because of the tight defense and the frequent trips to the line, the Toros trailed by just 6 at halftime, and the second half was all theirs.
With Dentmon struggling to find his jumper, his floater, and even his signature "Seven-Fingered Seesaw Scoop," a different leader found the reigns of production. Lance Thomas, the nicest dude in town, finished the game with 24 points and 16 rebounds. On a night when only two other guys shot at least 50% (big-man Luke Zeller and little-guy Solomon Bozeman), Thomas was everywhere, and as a result the Toros waltzed down to the final minutes without any doubt. The victory was theirs. Toros won 96-83. Confetti.
And so my preseason prediction was coming true right before my very eyes. The Austin Toros were 2-0! Undefeated! It reminded me of being a kid in Little League. No matter what year it was, there was always some team that always had some kid who could just throw the ball like the wind, or dribble the ball with flash. Those kids and those teams always went undefeated, and being undefeated was really magical. Not because I was ever on one of those undefeated teams (even though I was once, in basketball, because of Andre Ciceron's growth spurt), but because undefeated means the best, always, no matter what, and that's what I wanted for this year's Austin Toros. Unfortunately for me, my dream of Toro perfection, and for all Toros fans who made the eight-hour drive to Tulsa for the second game of the back-to-back against the 66ers … it comes with a heavy heart to report the following …
The Austin Toros lost to the Tulsa 66ers on Saturday night by a score of 109-96, and as a result, their record fell from the undefeated 2-0 to 2-1. Our very same hero from the previous game, Lance Thomas, played an invisible 35 minutes and managed a measly seven shot attempts, finishing with 9 points. Game one's hero, Justin Dentmon, rediscovered his shooting magic to a small degree, but his 22 points were almost as tough to remember as Thomas' single-digit effort. Let's face the music; the Toros lost this game on the glass and on the defensive end in the fourth quarter. Austin shot 45%, nailed 13 of 24 three-pointers, and made 75% of their free throws, all of which often spell the ingredients to success.
Going into the fourth, the Toros trailed by just 1 point, and with their fourth-quarter dominance fresh in the heads of all who witnessed the Tulsa/Austin game from one night previous, my associates and I were believing in victory as the ball was in-bounded to start the final period. But Tulsa was the better team this go-around, and playing on their home floor, perhaps, made all the difference. The 66ers were the more aggressive club, crashing the boards with boombastic realism. Their rebounding edge, 48 to Austin's 28, was undoubtedly the deciding factor in an altogether depressing outcome.
Sadness engulfed us all, but like some sort of new plantlife, we sprouted a new attitude, a new tomorrow. We woke up and we looked at our Toros posters, we put on our Toros gear, and we sing along to our Toros anthems, ready for the next fight. It was silly of me to believe that the Toros cold go undefeated. I mean who am I kidding?! They play 46 games! So here's the new goal: two wins for every loss. Finish the regular season out with a 31 and 15 record (or 30 and 16, I'll be psyched either way). Get into the playoffs and kick the gear shifter all the way to the top. You gotta break some eggs to make French toast (egg substitutes are a big mistake in French toast recipes). It's a good goal. And so it goes.
The week ahead:
So with our new outlook on Toros basketball, a loss every now and then won't be so bad. Take the good with the bad, they tell me. And I always thought they were liars trying to get my shoes, but turns out they're right. Gotta try hard and hopefully it will result in a championship. So next on the Toros' plate comes yet another game against those crafty Tulsa 66ers (what?!? another one?!) tonight at the Cedar Park Center. Some may see this as a rubber match, and I am one of those baseball-minded people who want to win this three-game series. The Toros big men have to do a better job at rebounding the basketball. (Luke Zeller, I'm looking at you. Sure it's fun to shoot threes, but you gotta crash the glass!)
After the Tulsa game, the Toros head west to Rio Grande Valley (where?) to play the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, a shifty team sitting at 4-2 in the Western Conference. It's a back-to-back, Toros style, in which they'll play a short two-game series on the Viper's home court, and if things go according to plan, they will feast on boiled snake and come back to Austin fully nourished, two W's intact, ready to play their next game against the Tulsa 66ers (are you kidding me!?). My nerves can barely take the anticipation!
Vs. Tulsa: Wed., Dec. 7, 7:30pm. Vs. Texas: Thu., Dec. 15, 7:30pm. Cedar Park Center, 2100 Avenue of the Stars, Cedar Park, 512/600-5000. $8-99 plus fees. www.austintoros.com.