Senior captain Levi Randolph recorded his first career double-double and stuffed the stat sheet with a 15 point, 10 rebound, five assist, four steal game on Friday to lead Alabama over Towson 82-54 in both teams' season openers. Fellow senior Rodney Cooper had 15 points of his own and was joined in double figures by sophomore Shannon Hale with 14 and freshman Riley Norris with 10. Freshman Justin Coleman just missed double digits with nine points.
'Bama got some help in the form of Ricky Tarrant and Retin Obasohan returning from injury, but Michael Kessens was still held out as he recovers from double hernia surgery. Freshman Jeff Garrett was also out after having four wisdom teeth removed earlier this week. Ten players saw action for the Tide, with all scoring. Randolph, Cooper and Hale were joined in the starting lineup by little freshman Justin Coleman and sophomore big man Jimmie Taylor.
Taylor got in foul trouble early, drawing two within the first minute of the game. The foul trouble forced the Tide to go small without Kessens available. Norris at 6'7" was forced to play more of an inside role, and did a great job, adding five rebounds to his 10 points. 'Bama led 39-30 at the half as Randolph had nine points and Norris had eight.
After the intermission 'Bama came out aggressive and turned up the defensive intensity. The lead quickly escalated to a comfortable margin, and was stretched out from there. The Tide forced 22 turnovers, scoring 34 points off of them. 'Bama finished with 14 steals, 17 assists, and nine blocks with only eight turnovers, a sure recipe for success.
For the game 'Bama shot 29-63 (46.8%) from the field, 7-23 (30.4%) from three, and 17-19 (89.5%) from the free throw line. Towson shot 18-50 (36%) from the field, 7-21 (33.3%) from three, and 11-15 (73.3%) from the charity stripe.
Overall this was an excellent start for the Crimson Tide. Though not a traditional power, Towson did win 26 games last year and always fields a competitive team. 'Bama played fast, played smart, and played with confidence. Players seem more willing to take shots and play within the flow of the game. Randolph and Cooper are playing like the seniors that they are. Hale has the potential to have a very good year. Coleman is and will continue to be a fan favorite, not only for his diminutive size but also for his speed, quickness, and the confidence he plays with. Norris showed more defensive ability than many thought he possessed, and showed a propensity to mix it up inside as well as the ability to step outside and hit the three. Norris had two three point field goals and added a dunk in his debut.
Tarrant being back from injury is a big plus. He played 21 minutes and was a little rusty, missing all eight of his field goal attempts. However, each was a good shot, and most rimmed out. The Tulane transfer did hit all five of his free throw attempts and had two assists and two steals, while playing with speed and good court awareness. Freshman Devin Mitchell only played eight minutes but hit 1 or 2 three point attempts. The only negative was Taylor, playing 24 minutes and scoring only four points while grabbing four rebounds. The Greensboro native did contribute four blocked shots. Taylor will have to stay out of foul trouble and rebound better, which should lead to some garbage baskets. He is not, and probably will never be, a polished offensive option but he can score in double figures by staying in the game, and playing big around the rim.
This Tide team is deeper than any in recent memory, and plays a fun brand of basketball. If they can ever get Kessens on the floor they have a chance to be very good. With out Kessens, Taylor just will not be able to carry the load inside by himself. Cooper, Hale and Norris will help, but are all more small forwards-big guards than inside bruisers. For his size Cooper does a good job rebounding, and defensively. Hale is more of an outside force. Norris, as mentioned earlier, is willing to mix it up inside, and can hit the outside shot, but is a bit under sized for an inside role.
Support this team, they have a chance to surprise a lot of people, and are a fun bunch to watch, as they get up and down the floor, and get in peoples grill on defense. If they can get and stay healthy I feel you are looking at a tournament team.
The Tide has a quick turn around, as they play again Monday night at 8pm CST against Western Carolina in Coleman Coliseum. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
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