Does it get any better than this? The Delaware Blue Coats opened up the regular season in a packed 76ers Fieldhouse. With a talented roster and brand new facility to call home, it was also the Blue Coats’ first season opening home game since 2016. The Blue Coats opened the regular season with a matchup vs. the Maine Red Claws.
In a pregame interview, Connor Johnson stated, “I think there is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the first game. I think we also got to keep in mind that this is the first game. It’s a long season and we’re trying to build and get better every day.”
One of those talented players is Zhaire Smith. When asked about integrating Zhaire Smith more into the offense this season, Connor Johnson replied, “I think he will be very involved in the offense. Part of what we do, we run the Sixers’ read-and-react motion offense. That lets everyone make decisions, make plays with the ball, cutting. We’ll also be running sets for certain guys, and he’ll definitely be one of them.”
The Blue Coats were without Norvel Pelle, who remains with the Philadelphia 76ers following their western road trip. Shizz Alston Jr. also did not suit up for the Blue Coats due to illness. The Blue Coats took on a tough Maine Red Claws team headlined by Yante Maten, Romeo Langford, and Tremont Waters. Let’s get to my first and second half thoughts.
First Half: This and That, Things I Think
- The good news? Marial Shayok is going to average over 30 points per game with the Delaware Blue Coats. He’s a walking bucket and is electric on the offensive end. However, he had 0 assists and 0 steals in the first half. If you’re looking for efficient basketball, then this isn’t it. Marial Shayok is going to put up shots. No doubt about it.
- Horrible first half from Xavier Munford. As we discussed on our previous Blue Route pod, the lack of a facilitator is a real concern for this Delaware Blue Coats roster, and it showed early. Xavier Munford couldn’t buy a basket during the first half. He’s not fast enough and he’s not tall enough to defend point guards. The lack of ball movement was a major issue. They had only 4 assists on 16 field goals in the half.
- This Blue Coats roster has significant talent on defense, but it didn’t show in the first two quarters. The Blue Coats gave up 74 points in the first half. For such a tall team, this really was the surprise of the night. Haywood Highsmith brought his usual energy, but expectations were through the roof entering the season. This is certainly an area that will have head coach Connor Johnson frustrated in the coming days.
- “Defend, run, and share” is the team’s motto. However, turnovers and lack of ball movement killed the Blue Coats. The Blue Coats had 12 turnovers. The Blue Coats were clearly dealing with some first game jitters vs. the Maine Red Claws.
- How did the matchup between Christ Koumadje and Tacko Fall go? While Koumadje had an excellent first half (4 points, 2 boards, and 3 blocks in 11 minutes), Tacko Fall was that much more impressive. Fall was unstoppable around the rim in the first half, finishing with 11 points, 6 boards, and a +24 on the court. Very impressive first half by Tacko Fall.
- The Blue Coats trailed 74-50 at the end of the first half. However, you wouldn’t know it as the crowd at the 76ers Fieldhouse was certainly engaged. Great turn out for the season opener.
Second Half: This and That, Things I Think
- The Blue Coats continued to struggle on defense, giving up 37 points in the third quarter. Most notably, the Blue Coats had no answer for Romeo Langford and Yante Maten. Langford and Maten finished with 24 and 27 points respectfully.
- What is the trickle-down effect of not having a real point guard on the Blue Coats roster? I think this has serious implications for guys like Zhaire Smith, Jared Brownridge, and Norvel Pelle. The lack of ball movement is a serious concern for the success of this year’s team. Even Jared Brownridge facilitated the offense at different points in the game. The Blue Coats may have to go out and find themselves a point guard. Anyone know what Matt Farrell is up to?
- Speaking of Jared Brownridge, the G League’s best three point shooter didn’t make a three pointer until the 3rd quarter. He finished with 7 points in 18 minutes. For such an electric shooter, the lack of ball movement from the Blue Coats really hindered Brownridge’s ability to get good looks from the perimeter. Step one for Connor Johnson is getting the best shooter in the G League better looks from the perimeter.
- The lack of a point guard also killed the Blue Coats in the transition game. The Blue Coats had 21 turnovers that led to consistent fast break opportunities for the Red Claws on the other end.
- It was a fairly mediocre season debut for Zhaire Smith. Zhaire finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and a steal in 30 minutes. Smith had difficulty defending Tremont Waters and Romeo Langford for the Red Claws. The bad news? He was a -10 on the court. The good news? He took 12 shots in the game and seemed aggressive when given the opportunity to shoot from the perimeter.
- Overall, it was a solid game by Shayok. To get a feel of how much the Blue Coats struggled in this game, Marial Shayok was a team best -2 on the court. I’m not the biggest fan of high volume shooters, as it took Shayok 24 shots to get to his 34 points in his 29 minutes.
- In one of the most bizarre storylines of the game, the Maine Red Claws scored 37 points in every quarter vs. the Delaware Blue Coats. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team score the same amount of points per quarter in a game. Have you? I may have to look further into this. Pretty crazy.
- Tacko Fall is not only ridiculously tall, but he had a very strong overall game. He finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and was a +11 on the court. In fact, every single player on the Maine Red Claws who played meaningful minuts was a positive on the court tonight.
Jason Blevins and I did a quick Blue Route podcast with our top takeaways from the season opener. Click here to listen or watch that podcast!
Here are the best highlights from Marial Shayok during his debut with the Delaware Blue Coats
After the game, Marial Shayok spoke to the media about his 34 point performance.
Here are the best highlights from Zhaire Smith vs. the Maine Red Claws.
Zhaire Smith spoke to the media about his performance tonight.
Here is head coach Connor Johnson discussing the Blue Coats’ 148-125 loss to the Maine Red Claws
Head coach Connor Johnson reiterated what everyone saw. It starts with defense, and the Blue Coats simply did not match the intensity and energy of the Maine Red Claws from tip off. Second, they didn’t do enough in transition. Connor Johnson wants his team to push the pace consistently, and that just didn’t happen.
Lastly, the Blue Coats are a team that should never find themselves being out-rebounded. The Red Claws had 57 rebounds compared to the Blue Coats’ 45. The disparity was much wider than that if you removed significant garbage time in the 4th quarter.
All in all, it’s good to be back. It’s only the first game of the season, and I know Connor Johnson will correct the mistakes from game one. Off the court, Blue Coats fans and the Paul Green Rock Academy rocked the 76ers Fieldhouse all night. Despite the outcome, it was a great time down in Wilmington watching two very promising young stars in Marial Shayok and Zhaire Smith.