The Alabama Crimson Tide went back to the future to claim a hard-fought, ugly win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday night at Coleman Coliseum. After several years of being a strong defensive team that struggled to score, this year's edition had been averaging 80 points per game, before reverting back to its low-scoring ways. Rodney Cooper scored 23 for Alabama in the 65-53 win. The Tide now sit at 6-2 on the year, while the Golden Eagles drop to 5-4.
Tennessee Tech was led by their two big men, 6'10" Charles Jackson and 6'8", 250 pound Dwan Caldwell. To counter the Eagles' size, Coach Anthony Grant started Michael Kessens instead of Shannon Hale, giving the Tide a more favorable match up. However TTU came out on fire, offensively, defensively and on the boards, playing aggressively and disrupting Alabama's timing, taking a 25-12 lead with 8:30 left in the first half.
Shortly thereafter Tide point guard Ricky Tarrant left the game with cramps, and never returned. Tarrant is the team's second-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, but did not score in his eight minutes on the court. With Tarrant out, Retin Obasohan received his most extended playing time of the season, 25 minutes, and scored a season high nine points. The Belgium native's energy was needed and and he led the team defensively while also sharing ball-handling duties with Justin Coleman.
After trailing most of the first half, the Tide finally took a 32-31 lead at 2:32, and posted a 37-36 advantage heading into the locker room. At the half, the Tide was shooting 55 percent on 10-18 shooting, with 5-8 from three point range. However the nation's leading free throw shooting team (at 80%) uncharacteristically made on 12-18 (66%) in the first half. The Golden Eagles shot 12-25 (48%), 4-6 from three point range and 8-10 from the free throw line. Tech's size advantage was apparent, as Alabama was out rebounded 25-10 in the first stanza.
The Tide turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, holding TTU to 22% percent shooting on 6-27, with 1-9 from three-point range. Alabama, however, didn't shoot much better, hitting just 7-21 (33%), and only 1-6 from long range. Free throw shooting improved, as the Tide knocked down 13-17 (76%) at the stripe, to eventually pull away for the win.
Individually, Cooper scored 23, adding five rebounds. Randolph scored a season-low 10 points, hitting only 4-8 from the free throw line (despite entering the game with a 39-40 mark at the stripe.) However, Randolph did add four rebounds, and led the team with five assists. Obasohan dropped nine and added three rebounds. Hale scored eight points, playing 16 minutes over all, and only three minutes in the second half. Kessens scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds. Caldwell led the Eagles with 14 points, and had eight rebounds. Jackson, who came in averaging a double-double, scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. For the game 'Bama shot 43% from the field, 43% from three point range, and 71% from the free throw line. Tennessee Tech shot 34% overall, 33% from deep, and hit only 60% from the free throw line. While The Tide was able to close the margin on the boards, Tennessee Tech still outrebounded Alabama, 35-30.
There isn't anything special about this win, but it would have been a terrible loss. Avoiding terrible losses is likely to be the key to the Tide advancing to post season play this year. Alabama seems to be learning how to close out games, even when it is not playing particularly well. For instance, the Tide held Tech to one field goal in the last nine minutes of the game. Randolph and Cooper have shown great senior leadership, and the Tide seems to have accepted the team concept, with that pair leading the way.
Alabama will face by far its toughest foe of the season on Tuesday, December 16th, when the Crimson Tide travel to play the 11th ranked Wichita State Shockers. The Shockers are 8-1 on the season, with their only loss a one-point overtime road thriller to Utah, 69-68. The game will tip at 8 p.m. CST and will be televised on ESPN2.