Alabama rode four players in double figures on Tuesday night to defeat South Florida 82-71 in Coleman Coliseum. Senior Rodney Cooper led the way with 20 points, and was followed by Ricky Tarrant with 17, Levi Randolph with 14 and freshman Justin Coleman with a career high 11.
The Tide played shorthanded as Retin Obasohan sat out the game with a leg injury. Even still, eight players played at least ten minutes in the game and another played eight, underscoring the depth of this year's team not previously seen under Coach Anthony Grant.
'Bama started fast, scoring the first six points of the game, setting the tone for the game. The team ran on offense and played an aggressive, pressing defense, which led to 21 South Florida turnovers including 10 steals by the Tide. At the half, Cooper had 10 points, Coleman had eight, Tarrant had seven and Randolph added six, as the Tide led 43-32.
In the second half 'Bama stretched the lead out to as much as 19 before cruising to an 11-point win. South Florida made it more respectable by hitting a three point basket and a lay up in the last 20 seconds of the game. For the game the Bulls shot better from the field and the three point line, but the Tide won the free throw battle again as they have in most games to start the season. USF was 28-56 (50%) from the field, 6-12 (50%) from the three point line, but only 9-19 (47%) from the charity stripe. Alabama shot 27-63 (43%) from the field, 8-25 (32%) from the three point line, and 20-25 (80%) from the free throw line. Randolph finally missed a free throw on his final attempt of the day, and is now 36-37 on the season. The captain was one make away from tying the late Alvin Lee's team record of 39 straight. The Tide won the rebounding battle 38-34, and tallied 18 assists against 16 turnovers.
Cooper's 20 points came on a 7-13 day from the field, 2-3 from long range, and 4-4 from the free throw line. Tarrant had a strong all-around game in his first start in Crimson. The Pleasant Grove junior added eight assists and five steals to his 17 points and did not have a turnover in his 33 minutes. Randolph had a subpar game based on the lofty standards he has set thus far but still had 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Jimmie Taylor stayed out of foul trouble and played 28 minutes, allowing him to grab a career high 11 rebounds to go with four points. Michael Kessens showed signs of working his way into playing shape and had his best all around game of his short Crimson Tide career. Kessens played 19 minutes and scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds. Freshman Riley Norris played ten minutes and added three points to go with three rebounds while showing a lot of heart and hustle on defense and chasing down loose balls.
The Tide never trailed in the game and had a season high 15 offensive rebounds. 'Bama came into the game leading the nation in free throw percentage at 80%, and stayed right on that average.
South Florida, who dropped to 5-2 on the young season, were led by Corey Allen, Jr with 16 points. Nehemias Morillo added 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Chris Perry led the Bulls with eight rebounds and scored 11 points. Jaleel Cousins, a Mobile native and the brother of NBA star DeMarcus Cousins, scored three points and grabbed two rebounds, showing which brother got the talent gene in that family.
Alabama showed it can go big Taylor, Kessens and Hale together) or small and fast (Tarrant and Coleman together) or any combination in between. One thing for sure, regardless of the line up, the team is looking to get up and down the court. Tarrant and Coleman are both fast and quick and like to push the ball. Tarrant had a highlight reel play with a pass off of the back board to Randolph for a dunk in the second half.
Coach Anthony Grant is noticeably more relaxed and engaged then at any point in his Alabama career. Tonight he flashed several smiles and was seen slapping high fives and passing out hugs to his players. Afterwards he said, " this is a fun group that likes each other and likes playing together. They are all about the team, and they are a joy to coach." "We have a mixture of young and veteran players and have a learning curve, and anytime you can learn in a victory rather than a defeat, that's always a plus."
This is an exciting team with a lot of upside. As long as they continue to win the games they are supposed to, avoiding bad losses, they will definitely be in the hunt for a NCAA Tournament bid come March. At some point they will need to win some 50-50 games and also some that they aren't expected to win. With the talent and depth on the team they certainly can do so.
The Tide's next game will be a challenge, as they travel to Cincinnati to take on the always dangerous Xavier Musketeers on Saturday at 7 p.m. CST in one of those aforementioned 50-50 games. The game is scheduled to be on CBS SN. Finals are next week so the team will next play on December 13th against Tennessee Tech, giving them a full week between games.
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PS Just saw Tarrant's pass with Levi's slam was number two on Sports Center Top 10 Roll Tide to that!