The Crimson Tide basketball team did exactly what they needed to last night in a 70-46 win over the LSU Tigers. With the two teams trending in opposite directions and the Tide playing at home in front of a packed house, winning was a must, and anything short of winning comfortably would have been somewhat disappointing.
Fortunately, the Tide delivered on both counts after the coaching staff made the decision in-game to switch to a full-court press defense after opening the game in half-court man. Alabama held a lead virtually throughout, but as late as the opening minutes of the second half, the Tigers were within 3 points. At that point, Bama's defense took over completely, sparking a 24-4 run over the next 10 minutes of the game, effectively putting it out of reach with about 7 minutes still left on the clock.
The biggest stat of the game was probably in the rebounding department. I said before the game that defensive rebounding was a big weakness of LSU's, and that proved to be the case in this one. Bama racked up a whopping 20 offensive boards, an astounding 57% offensive rebounding rate. It's difficult for a team to win when they only rebound 43% of the opponent's missed shots.
Bama only shot 43% from the field in this one and was only 2-for-12 from the arc, but the 2nd-chance points points the Tide got off of offensive boards and the transition points Bama got off turnovers from the press in the second half allowed the Tide to run away with this one.
Speaking of the press, it was very interesting that Grant and staff chose to "dust it off" after mostly shelving it after our horrid start to the year. The staff rightly realized back in December that as good as our defense was with the press and all, our offensive simply couldn't score at a high enough rate to be successful while playing the entire game at that tempo. We've been using it at times since then just to mix things up, but haven't relied on it as our primary defense in a very long time, until last night at least.
After LSU got some pretty good looks against our half-court defense in the first 10 minutes or so, Grant switched to a full-time full-court press for most of the remainder of the game. To be honest, I questioned this decision at first, especially when LSU broke the press with relative ease their first few possessions against it. However, LSU proceeded to score only 10 points over the last 12:30 of the first half while facing the press, and then only scored 11 points in the first 13:05 of the second half. By that point, it was all over for LSU, and Bama soon began pulling its starters.
Individually, the MVP was no doubt JaMychal Green. Early on when LSU was hanging tough and Bama was struggling a bit, Green was the sole reason Bama was able to maintain its small lead throughout the first half and into the second half. He only played 23 minutes after getting pulled with 7 minutes to go, but in that limited time he poured in 20 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. When Bama's offense just wasn't getting many good looks early on, Green was the one making things happen. The proverbial light bulb has finally come on for Green, and if he keeps it up he should be right in the conversation with Kentucky's Terrence Jones and Georgia's Trey Thompkins for first team All-SEC honors at the forward spot. The only concern for Bama fans should he keep it up is his availability for next season.
He's so consistent it almost goes without saying, but Tony Mitchell had another double-digit scoring night with 14 points. I'm not sure I can remember a player who averaged 15 points a game by actually scoring almost exactly 15 points every single game, but that's what Mitchell does. Starting point guard Trevor Releford also had a solid game with 10 points, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover. We'll take those numbers from our freshman point guard every single night.
Chris Hines was a bit more active offensively with Green sitting out almost half the game. He raised his scoring average by contributing 7 points, and tied Green with 7 rebounds. Another big contributor was Andrew Steele, who scored 7 points in about a 3-minute span in the second half. Steele is the epitome of the word "solid", as he just never seems to take bad shots or make mistakes, yet is able to score if the defense goes to sleep on him. We really could have used him early on in the season. Ben Eblen also continues to improve and show increased confidence. I'd still destroy him in a game of HORSE, but aside from his inability to threaten to score, he's improved so much as a defender and ballhandler that I no longer worry about having him get some minutes each game as the backup point guard.
All in all, we didn't do anything spectacular in this one, but the encouraging thing is that we didn't have to. We simply did what good teams do: we handled our business against a weaker opponent at home. The big headline for Tide fans after this one was the fact that Bama now sits alone in 1st place in the SEC. While that's obviously good news, things are about to get much, much tougher.
On Wednesday we'll see a Mississippi State team that has now fully integrated its two missing stars into the lineup, and one that finally looks like the talented team that was picked as the best team in the West in the preseason. After that, we follow up with two brutal road games against two of the league's elite teams, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. It's good to be where we are now in the SEC race, but we've got our work cut out for us over the next 11 days if we want to stay at the top, or even near the top, of the standings.