Observations from the Blue Coats 100-91 loss to the Grand Rapids Drive

The Delaware Blue Coats (12-8) took on the Grand Rapids Drive at the 76ers Fieldhouse on Friday night. It was also Superhero Night as children were dressed to the nines in Marvel, DC Comics and Star Wars costumes.

An Offensive Drought

Putting the ball in the basket in the first quarter was few and far between vs. the Grand Rapids Drive. At one point with 5 minutes remaining, both teams shot a combined 6-28 from the floor. Christ Koumadje had made an instant impact in his first series with much of the offense running through the pick-and-roll between Marial Shayok and Koumadje.

Christ Koumadje finished his first stretch with 2 points, 2 rebounds, and a block in his first four minutes. Zhaire Smith hit his first three pointer in the corner while Marial Shayok struggled to get in rhythm from the floor (0-3). Jared Brownridge had a huge impact off the bench, scoring 5 points in his first 5 minutes. Overall, it was the Zhaire and Koumadje show in the first quarter.

Zhaire Smith had 6 points (2-2 from beyond) and 2 assists in his first 6 minutes. Koumadje ended the first quarter with 2 points and 6 rebounds but disrupted countless shots in the paint. The Blue Coats led the Drive 24-18 after the first quarter and held the Drive to just 7-20 from the field.

A More Confident Zhaire Smith

Christ Koumadje continued to disrupt shot after shot in the paint in the second quarter, while Zhaire Smith made his impact moving the ball on offense. He had 3 assists in 10 minutes, along with a beautiful touch pass to Christ Koumadje for an impressive two-handed dunk. Zhaire Smith being more involved within the offense is something that should make all Sixers fans excited.

Marial Shayok cooled down after quick, back-to-back buckets early on in the second quarter. Shayok was just 2-8 from the floor, while much of the Blue Coats’ offense sputtered. After the dunk by Koumadje, the Coats went nearly 5 minutes without a field goal until Haywood Highsmith hit back-to-back three pointers that gave the Coats a 36-35 lead. Haywood Highsmith was a standout in the second quarter, tallying 6 points and 4 rebounds.

Jared Brownridge also provided a major spark off the bench for the Blue Coats in the second quarter. The sharp shooter had 10 quick points in his first 10 minutes. Zhaire Smith was very active on offense, ending up with 8 points in 13 minutes but impacting the game in all facets. The Blue Coats led the Drive 43-42 at the end of the first half.

Zhaire Smith Continues to Shine

Just as he did in the first half, Zhaire Smith got the Blue Coats on the scoreboard in the second half by nailing a three pointer in the corner. Following a Christ Koumadje block, the Drive went on a 6-0 run to tie the game 50-50 with 8:24 remaining. That run ended after back-to-back-to-back three pointers by Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok, and Julian Washburn.

Xavier Munford had a solid yet quiet third quarter facilitating the offense and adding 6 points while tallying 7 assists. Munford’s steady point guard play and active defense led to a 10 point lead with 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Zhaire hits head on backboard in highlight block on Friday night. Photo by Wayne Terry, TPL.

But the star of the third quarter yet again went to Zhaire Smith. After a beautiful pull-up jumper from 12 feet, Zhaire Smith made an incredible block on Adam Woodbury at the rim. Zhaire’s block left the entire 76ers Fieldhouse buzzing. Zhaire Smith ended the third quarter with 16 points on 6-9 from the field. The Blue Coats led the Drive 69-65 after three quarters.

The Drive Put the Pedal to the Metal

The offensive tempo significant increased to start the fourth quarter. Back-to-back buckets by Shayok and back-to-back three pointers from Shizz Alston Jr. led the way to an 80-80 tie with 8:12 remaining. After Jared Brownridge nailed his third three pointer of the game, the Coats and Drive found themselves yet again tied at 88.

The Grand Rapids Drive outscored the Blue Coats by 10 in the fourth quarter and finished the game on a 12-2 run. The Blue Coats lost the game 100-91 and moved to 12-9 on the season. It was a very difficult night for Marial Shayok, who finished the game shooting 5-18 from the floor and 2-11 from beyond the arc.

Despite the offensive struggles in the paint, Christ Koumadje finished with 4 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks. He shot 1-6 from the floor. By far, the best player on the court for the Blue Coats was Zhaire Smith, who ended the game with 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. We’ll get into that in just a bit.

Quite simply, the Blue Coats lost the game on the glass. The Drive out-rebounded the Blue Coats by 22 and had 23 offensive rebounds. The Drive’s 35.3% team offensive rebounding percentage led to some major momentum shifting plays down the stretch (including an impressive put-back slam) in the 4th quarter. The Drive’s offensive rebounding led to second chance points that were ultimately the difference in the game.

Quick Player Observations

Zhaire Smith

Since joining the Sixers a week ago, Zhaire Smith has posted 17 and 19 points in back-to-back games. Zhaire certainly showed much more confidence in Connor Johnson’s system. “His offensive numbers have been looking good. He hit some timely threes and has looked more confident shooting it. These are all steps in the right direction, and he’s got a great attitude,” said Connor Johnson during the postgame interview.

Everyone knows that Zhaire’s chances with the Sixers boil down to the development of his perimeter shooting and defense with the Blue Coats. To his credit, Zhaire made 4 three pointers tonight. I have no doubt that Brett Brown will come away impressed with how Zhaire moved without the ball and found his teammates on offense. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come that will lead to Zhaire Smith getting some playing time with the Sixers in March.

What does it mean?

I think it still means that all Sixers fans should be patient with Zhaire Smith’s development. It’s also no secret that Zhaire Smith’s name has been thrown out there in countless trade rumors over the past few weeks. The Sixers need two things: a playmaker and a shooter. Unfortunately, that’s just not what Zhaire Smith brings to the table right now. Zhaire still possesses a ton of talent. It all comes down to: are the Sixers willing to wait? I’m leaning towards no, but I hope I’m wrong.

Marial Shayok

Friday night was not indicative of what Marial Shayok has been with the Blue Coats this season. Shayok put up 22 points in 26 minutes on January 4th and tallied 25 points in 30 minutes on January 7th. He’s got a true shooting percentage of 57.5% and is shooting 36.6% from three and 90.7% from the free throw line on the season. It just wasn’t his night.

Connor Johnson raved about Shayok’s mental toughness after the game. “He’s got a scorer’s mentality more than anyone I’ve ever seen. He likes to score. He’s good at it. He likes to pick his spots. I think they are a tough team to score on. We’ve scored over 100 every game, and that goes to show you how tough they are and how we need to find easier baskets.”

What does it mean?

It was a little frustrating that Marial Shayok didn’t see his name get called when Matisse Thybulle went down with a right knee sprain. Given how well Shayok has been shooting (38% from 3 on 7.7 attempts per game in December), I would have liked to see Shayok spend some time with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Connor Johnson continues to run the Blue Coats’ offense through Marial Shayok in the pick-and-roll. The PnR game between Shayok and Koumadje is something that should pay huge dividends for the Blue Coats in March when the playoffs start. During a night of superheroes at the 76ers Fieldhouse, it was unfortunate that the bat signal never turned on for Marial Shayok.

Christ Koumadje

Christ Koumadje really struggled on offense tonight. Connor Johnson was able to get Koumadje countless good looks in the paint. Similar to Shayok, there seemed to be a lid over the basket all night. However, Koumadje’s 1-6 from the floor doesn’t tell the whole story. Koumadje’s real impact came on the defensive end where he disrupted shot after shot in the paint. Koumadje finished with 5 blocks on the night.

What does it mean?

I’ve been incredibly impressed with Koumadje’s development this season. 22.6 minutes per game in November, 25.4 in December, and now 32.2 minutes per game in January. Koumadje is now playing over 30 minutes per game regularly and making a massive impact for the Blue Coats. He’s been averaging a double-double over the past couple of months. Koumadje also has an outrageous net rating of 13.0, which is the best on the team. Even more impressive, Koumadje has a net rating of 25.9 in three games in January. Wild.

The Delaware Blue Coats next take on the Lakeland Magic on January 14th at 7pm. It will be streamed on ESPN+. The Blue Coats defeated the Magic 109-83 back on December 1st behind 24 points from Marial Shayok. Doral Moore also had 19 points and 17 rebounds in that game. The Blue Coats return to the 76ers Fieldhouse on January 20th when they host the South Bay Lakers at 1pm.

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