Fortunately, this is not Michigan Football.
Appalachian State came out of the gates quickly, but the team just is not very good. Alabama, on the other hand, gave one of the laziest, most uninspired performances I've seen from them in a while. After a couple of Randolph free throws to open the game, the Mountaineers went on a 9-0 run and kept the lead for the rest of the half. In the first ten and a half minutes, the Tide managed to make a whole four baskets and added 9 turnovers, most of them self-inflicted and just really bad.
Thankfully, the Mountaineers were not all that good at getting open shots to go in the basket (plus Jimmie Taylor was blocking everything in sight), and the Tide managed to slip into halftime only down 29-27.
To open the second half, Michael Kessens scored the Tide's first five points, including a steal and breakaway, and Anthony Grant inexplicably decided that he then needed to be benched. Kessens scored a team high 17 points, shooting 78%, and adding 3 steals and 10 rebounds to round out his double-double. Michael Kessens is showing some serious talent as a post man, hitting almost any kind of shot one could ask of a forward. He might be the first big man threat the Crimson Tide has fielded since JaMychal Green.
The two teams traded
shots misses for a while, and Alabama finally took the lead with 8 minutes left in the game on a Riley Norris layup. Norris had a really hot second half in his most extensive playing time of the season. He only had six points, but they were all impressive, scrappy points. He also added eight rebounds.
Alabama kept the lead from there, but couldn't pull away from the Mountaineers by more than a couple of points thanks in part to the normally awesome free throw shooters, Ricky Tarrant and Levi Randolph, missing a whole bunch of free throws. Normally one of the top free throw teams in the nation, Alabama managed only 62.5% from the line today.
It came down to the last possession as Appalachian State had the ball down by one point with only a few seconds to go. Anthony Grant wisely used a couple of timeouts and well timed fouls to leave Mountaineers only 3 seconds to inbound the ball and score. The last attempt fell harmlessly to the court, and Alabama won 60-59.
The two teams had almost identical stats across the board. 41% to 40% shooting, 23.5% to 25% three pointers, 38 to 38 rebounds, 11 to 13 turnovers. The difference was that Alabama blocked nine shots (led by Taylor's 7) to State's one. And I am pretty sure Taylor had a few more blocks that weren't officially credited to him. He was a monster.
Randolph had a quietly decent game, putting up 14 points to go along with four rebounds and led the team with five assists. Tarrant put up 11 points, pulling a couple of how-did-he-do-that layups. Shannon Hale had 7 points, but was only 2-10 shooting on the night. Rodney Cooper had a quiet but solid game, giving 5 points and 5 rebounds to the Tide. Jimmie Taylor, Retin Obasohan, and Justin Coleman combined for a whole zero points.
All said, the Tide was lazy on defense, sloppy on offense, but just had better players than the Mountaineers. A win is a win, but this one didn't feel good. Kessens's offensive integration, Taylor's blocks, and Norris's improvement were the biggest bright spots of the game. Hopefully Coach Grant can use the game as a teaching point and get the team back to competing like they did for most of the Wichita State game.