Mike Conley Jr closed out his freshman season with another excellent all-around performance, but unfortunately it wasnt enough to prevent the Florida Gators from repeating as National Champions. The talented point guard played well beyond his years, as he has been doing all season long, and put together yet another stellar stat-line for the Buckeyes.
Less than a minute into the first half, Conley made his presence felt by stripping Taurean Green of the basketball and sprinting the other way for a breakaway layup. Just a couple of minutes later he took the ball coast-to-coast for another layup, weaving his way through Gator defenders. That would be it for a while for Conley who didnt score very much in the first half, as he was hampered for the most part by foul trouble. Despite this, he still kept Ohio State in the game thanks to his stellar point guard play. Relying on his unbelievable control with the ball, quickness, and craftiness, Conley was able to drive and kick several times in that first half, including one particularly impressive drive and dish along the baseline that set up teammate Ivan Harris for an open three.
In the second half, Conley would step up his scoring efforts, finishing with 20 points in the game. A mediocre shooter from the outside during the year, he couldnt manage to get his jumper going, hitting just a floater in the lane and a meaningless three in the games waning seconds. What he lacked from the outside though, he more than made up for going to the basket. Twice, Conley fooled defenders along the baseline with a crossover move, and twice he went strong to the basket taking a reverse layup. He converted on the first attempt in spectacular fashion, and missed the second amidst heavy pressure from the Florida interior. Later in the game he showed his elusiveness again, this time fooling Joakim Noah with a quick spin move in the lane that ended in another easy layup.
On defense, Conley had another solid game, playing pesky on the ball. He got caught napping a couple times and was burned off the dribble by Taurean Green, but in general Conley looked very sharp. He has great hands, and it showed in this game as he deflected several passes, and a couple of them wound up as steals, either for him or a teammate. More so than his hands though, its his instincts and knowledge of where to position himself when his man doesnt have the ball that makes him dangerous. A couple of Conleys steals came from his anticipation and playing the angles correctly on defense, cutting off passing lanes. These are little nuances that most freshmen havent added to their game yet defensively.
Despite disappearing for a stretch in the first half due to foul trouble, this was still a great performance from Conley. When he wasnt hitting shots, he was setting up teammates or drawing fouls by being persistent. When he wasnt on the ball defensively, he was forcing his man to work anyway. This was one of the most impressive seasons by any freshman in the country, and the future is clearly very bright for Conley.