Mercifully the Alabama basketball season came crashing to an end on Thursday night by the score of 68-56 to the LSU Tigers. It was the first time under Coach Anthony Grant that the Tide did not win at least one game in the SEC tournament. 'Bama finished at 13-19, the teams worst record since Coach C.M. Newton's first team, the 1969 edition, that finished 4-20. The Tide was the only team in the country that did not win a game away from their home court this year, with a 0-15 mark.
The Tide and Tigers's started off playing evenly, and 'Bama held a 21-20 lead with about 8 minutes left in the first half. LSU ended the half on a 17-3 run to take a 35-24 margin into the locker room. The Tide had a good game plan working with their zone defense to try and limit the inside size advantage that the Tigers's enjoyed. The idea was to limit Johnny O'Bryant III inside, and the team did a good job of that, doubling down on him as soon as he caught the ball. However, in a perfect example of pick your poison, the Tiger's knocked down 6 of 13 first half three point attempts. LSU hit 14-29 total field goals (48.6%) in the first half and Alabama shot 37% (10-27) including 4-11 from behind the arc.
Trailing by 11, the Tide came out fast in the second half as Shannon Hale hit a three pointer, and Trevor Releford hit two free throws to cut the lead to five, but only briefly. LSU continued their hot shooting, and stretched the lead out back to 10 and never looked back. Any time the Tide would make any type of run, the Tiger's would counter, and expand the lead again.
LSU shot 52% (13-25) including 5-9 (55.6%) from three point range. 'Bama was only 8-23 (34.8) and 2-10 (20%) from three in the second half. The Tide could have kept the game closer, but was only 14-26 from the free point line. Releford hit 6-7 from the line, and the rest of the team was only 8-19.
Releford's last game in Crimson and White was not his best, but per usual he led the team in scoring, sharing honers with Hale with 11 points each. Releford added five rebounds, three assists and three steals. With the 11 point output Releford scored in double figures in every game this year, and including last year 43 straight games. He also finished his incredible career as the fourth leading scorer in Alabama history, passing Buck Johnson during the game. Levi Randolph added 10 points and led the team with six rebounds. LSU won the rebounding battle 38-31, and had 11 offensive rebounds to 10 for the Tide. The big difference was that LSU was able to convert many of theirs into baskets, whereas 'Bama often couldn't finish around the rim. The team seemingly missed 10 makable, close in "bunny" shots.
Shavon Coleman led the Tiger's with 15 points, and Tim Quarterman added 12, as two unexpectedly were the big scores. O'Bryant has held to 11 points and six rebounds. Jordan Mackey had nine points and 11 big rebounds, and three blocked shots.
With about 24 seconds left and emotionally spent Releford came off the court for the last time as a Tide player. No one player has given more and received less results in their career. Releford praised his coach, saying "Everyone else isn't in there with us, and know what a great job Coach Grant does. I feel the future is bright for the team." He added,
"I'm going to miss wearing the Crimson and White, these four years were the best. Win or lose Coach Grant and the University has helped prepare me for the next step in life. I came her as a young 18 year old boy, and Coach Grant helped turn me into a man." Nothing but best wished for this fine young man as he graduates in the spring, and moves on to pro ball, either in Europe or hopefully the NBA."
The other players also lent their support for Grant, with each of them saying what a great influence he has been in their lives. Grant commented that whatever happens concerning his job "Is out of my control." Athletic Director Bill Battle will access the program after returning to Tuscaloosa, and as he does with each sport when their season ends. By all indications Grant will return for his sixth season next year.
Looking forward to next year, Randolph, Rodney Cooper and Carl Engstrom will all be seniors. There is some question if Engstrom will return, but since he is graduating he may move on, and play in his native Sweden or elsewhere in Europe. Algie Key will also return as a senior. The status of Nick Jacobs is up in the air. The rising senior has been on "leave of absence" for about the last month of the season. Retin Obasohan and transfer point guard Ricky Tarrant will be juniors.
Tarrant will be the heir apparent at point guard. Jimmie Taylor, Hale, and transfer Michael Kessens will be sophomores.Taylor and Hale both came on strong as the season progressed. Hale was named to the Freshmen All SEC team. Both need to get stronger, particularly Taylor, who can be a force on the boards and defensively if he adds some pounds to his frame.. Kessens, who played at Longview as a freshmen is a 6'9" inside player who will be a great addition. He is a big guy that can play inside or out and stretch the floor. Dakota Slaughter could have a year of eligibility left, but is a fine student and is graduating, and most likely will move in the business world.
Incoming freshmen will include all everything point guard Justin Coleman from Birmingham, shooting guard/small forward sharpshooting Riley Norris from Albertville, a 6'7' player. Devin Mitchell is a 6"4" shooting guard from Suwanee Georgia and is know as an excellent shooter. The Tide is in the mix for a couple other inside players, and hope to be able to sign one more before the school year ends.
The season was not what anyone wanted, but the team did play hard, but not always smart or well. There seems to be enough pieces in place to have a successful season next year. If Coach Grant makes it to next season, he will be under a microscope. 2014-2015 will be a make or break season for him, and the team will need to make significant strides, including making the NCAA tournament, and perhaps winning a couple of games while there. As the Cubs fans have been saying for over 100 years, "Wait till next year!"
In closing let me say, I have enjoyed covering the team this year, even if the results were not what I wanted or expected. Thank you to the people that took time to read my accounts of each game. I hope to be able to do it again next year, and look for better results.
Roll Tide Y'all