Everything was lined up against Alabama Saturday night. The 19-7 Missouri Tigers came to town, trying to play their way into the NCAA tournament. The Tide, at 10-16, 4-9 in the SEC, looked to be playing out the string. The one shining star for 'Bama, Trevor Releford, went down in pain just two minutes into the game. Releford was kneed in the upper thigh and was in pain as he was led into the dressing room. Releford has been scoring about 47% of his teams points in the last seven games. But something happened on the way to another disappointing loss. That something was the re-discovery of Levi Randolph.
Randolph did not start the game, but when Releford went down he was called on, and never left the game, playing a career hight 38 minutes. Had Releford not gone down Randolph would not have been in the game so early, and would not have scored a career high 33 points. Releford got treatment in the locker room and came back out, and on guts and savvy alone, played 35 minutes and scored 18 points and distributed six assists, while playing 35 minutes.
'Bama played an inspired, energetic first half and took a 42-35 lead to the locker room at intermission. Randolph played with aggressiveness and confidence that has not been seen this year, and scored 19 points in the first stanza. Releford added eight points and two assists. Randolph was taking the open three point shot that he has so ofter passed up this year, and also driving to the basket and dunking with authority. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross was the Tigers leading scorer at half with 13 points. The Tide shot and impressive 16-27(59.3%) in the first half, and was 5-11 from the three point line. Missouri shot an even 50%, 14-28 and was 3-11 from the three point line.
So often over the last several weeks 'Bama has played good first halves, either leading or being close, only to be destroyed in the second half by lackluster play both on offense and defense. That was not the case today and Randolph hit a three right out of the gate to start the second half. The Tide was able to stretch their lead out to 10 points plus on several occasions, only to have Missouri go on mini runs to keep it close. When the Tigers cut it the lead to four points with 11 minutes left, even the most ardent Tide fan could feel a sense of deja vous. However behind Randolph and Releford the Tide showed more resolve than they have all season and answered every Tiger punch with a counter punch of their own, and did just enough at the free throw line down the stretch to secure the 80-73 win. The Tide did all they could to keep Missouri in the game shooting only 55.2%(16-29) from the free throw line for the game. Randolph was able to get a break away dunk to put the icing on the cake of his career night.
For the game 'Bama shot an amazing 57.4% (27-47) from the field and 10-21 (47.6%) from three point range. The achilles heel was the poor free throw shooting. Missouri was 23-48 (47.9%) for the game, but only 5-16 (31.3%) from long range. The Tigers kept themselves in the game at the free throw line, hitting 22-29 for 75.9%.
Randolph and Releford were helped by Rodney Cooper who added nine points and led the team with six rebounds and threw in four assists for good measure. Retin Obasohan added eight points, and Jimmie Taylor chipped in five points and three rebounds. Shannon Hale was saddled with foul trouble for much of the night and only played 13 minutes and scored four points. Algie Key scored three points, grabbed three boards and contributed three assists. In 14 minutes Carl Engstrom had three rebounds and a big blocked shot. Ross scored 25 and SEC leading scorer Jabari Brown added 23 for Missouri.
The Tide played their most complete game of the year, and in doing so got their most impressive win. When Releford gets some help and doesn't feel he has to score on every possession this team is so much better. Releford was able to play more of a point guard role, and got his six assists. Releford was playing in much pain, and Coach Grant said after the game, "Trevor was in tremendous pain, and played on guts and was no where near 100%." Randolph simply played the game of his Alabama career, and many wonder where that player has been hiding. He played with so much more confidence and energy, but stayed within himself. Instead of passing up wide open shots as he has much of the season, he was firing away, and connecting. For the game Randolph was 11-15, including 5-7 from three point range. Just two games ago against South Carolina the 6'5" junior hit his first three pointer in a SEC game this year. In that game he hit one more, and added two more in the Texas A@M loss. He now has nine made threes in conference play, with five of those occurring tonight.
The season has definitely been a disappointment but the team does not appear to have given up. They don't play well very often, but they almost always play hard. When they hit their shots it makes a huge difference. The offense seemed a lot more fluid tonight, but making shots makes it seem so. The same shots they typically miss, they were knocking down tonight. It will be nice if the Tide can take some momentum from this victory and put together a little winning streak. The next contest is in Oxford against Ole Miss on Wednesday, followed by Auburn coming to town next Saturday. The Ole Miss game is at 7 p.m. CST and will only be available on ESPN3. The Auburn game is set for 2 p.m. CST and will by shown on ESPNU. The schedule will conclude with a road trip to Kentucky on March 4th, and a final home game against Arkansas. Winning three out of four is a realistic goal. Really proud of the effort the team played with tonight, and would be happy to see that effort the rest of the season.
Roll Tide Y'all, Hang in there, things just got a little bit better. Roger