November 21, 2011

Tolbert makes progress

Lone senior Robert Lewandowski got into foul trouble within the first minute and a half of Texas Tech basketball's 66-54 win against Stephen F. Austin Sunday at the United Spirit Arena.

He put all the weight of the first half on his younger colleagues, namely freshman forward Jordan Tolbert who had just two games of college basketball under his belt. Fortunately for Tech, it worked out for the best.

"I got kind of nervous, but sometimes in practices it gets like that and I knew I had to step up for the team," Tolbert said.

Tolbert went on to have a 12 point, five rebound game and other Tech newcomers learned how to compete without senior leadership on the court.

Of course, sophomore forward Jaye Crockett and sophomore guard Bean Willis shouldered a good chunk of the load with 13 points and 12 points, respectively, but Lewandowski's absence on the court forced a group of mostly newcomers to hold down the fort.

Junior college transfer Ty Nurse scored a team-high 14 points in his third Division I game, but the game saw the most improvement in Tolbert and fellow freshman Toddrick Gotcher, a shooting guard who chipped in seven points of his own.

Tech's progress can be measured most clearly by how quickly the freshmen come along and after Sunday's win it was clear progress has been made. But progress can't stop here for any extended period of time.

"(I've learned) to listen," Tolbert said. "To listen is the hardest thing. I've learned that I'm not a good listener. In practice, (Gillispie) said something and then asked it like five seconds later and I forgot it."

So what was Gillispie's reaction toward Tolbert not having the answer?

"It was nice," Tolbert said and then the entire postgame crowd, including the players, chuckled.

"Listening is a skill," Willis said as he cut off Tolbert's answer to the questions related to listening. "He'll get it sooner rather than later. You've just got to open his ears every time the coaches say something."

Tolbert has received most of the messages Gillispie has preached. Tolbert and fellow newcomer and forward Jaron Nash were able to stop Stephen F. Austin in a way Lewandowski couldn't without drawing a foul.

"He's making progress," Gillispie said of Tolbert. "He's not anywhere where he's going to be. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever been around as a freshman, but he's got to learn. He got a good lesson today as far as posting up and being a good target.

"I thought we did a real good job, everyone except Lew actually, did a great job of not letting their No. 55 (Jereal Scott) catch the ball easily. Lew tried to play him after the catch and you can't play good players after the catch. Ron and Tolbert played him before the catch."

Gillispie went on to say Tolbert has no idea how good he can be by the time he wraps up his Tech career if he continues to improve in practice and in games.

Gillispie is in full teaching mode with his young guys. Today, however, he let the Red Raiders fend for themselves a little bit when Stephen F. Austin played a 1-3-1 defense and initiated a three-quarter court press.

The Tech coaching staff had not expected the Jacks to run either thing in Sunday's game. Instead of teaching on the floor though, Gillispie was interested in seeing what his young squad would do on its own.

The result was mixed, but Tech made enough plays to stay comfortably ahead by using the knowledge from other aspects of practice to get the victory.

Progress.

"I wanted to see what they could do with it," Gillispie said. "They were playing without direction and nobody provided direction, but we were still able to make a couple of plays and a couple of free throws to win the game.

"What I was most concerned about at that time was we didn't do a very good job with the flat ball screen again and we put them on the foul line. When they got on the foul line and missed free throws they got offensive rebounds and we can't do that."

So Tech ought to listen up in the next practice.

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