Alabama closed out its non-conference schedule with a record of 10-3. The Tide reached most of their goals for the early season, winning a game away from home (Arizona State, in Kansas City), and sweeping the nine games at home, all the while avoiding any "bad" losses that have plagued the NCAA landscape early this season. The one goal missing was winning a true road win. The Tide had that one within its reach, before blowing an 11-point lead with six minutes to go in vs. Top-10 Wichita State. The latest victory was on Friday night, 76-61, over the University of North Florida. UNF fell to 7-9 on the season, but have a road victory over Purdue.
The Tide began this one sluggish, falling behind by eight points early. But, Alabama closed the first half strong, on a 13-2 run to take a 45-37 lead at intermission. Michael Kessens was the big gun for Alabama, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds before the half. Rodney Cooper also helped sparked the Tide rally with a three-point basket, a lay up, and then two free throws which tied the game at 30. During the run, Kessens scored six straight points to spark the Tide to a 38-35 lead that they never relinquished. Cooper had seven at the half and Levi Randolph and Ricky Tarrant had five each.
In the second half the Tide slowly built their lead, stretching it to a 20-point margin at one point. Up big, Coach Anthony Grant emptied the bench, and UNF only narrowed the gap to the final 15 point margin. Coach Grant showed off the Tide's depth, with nine players playing at least 11 minutes each. Cooper logged 31 minutes, and Kessens had 27. Randolph and Coleman each played 26 minutes. Norris had 24 minutes, mostly in the second half.
Kessens was the star, securing his second double-double of the season, with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Randolph added 13 points, and has now reached double figures in every game this season. Cooper added 11 points, and freshman fan favorite, Riley Norris, had 10 points and four rebounds. Ricky Tarrant, fresh off being named SEC player of the week for last week, only scored seven, but had six assists with only one turnover. 'Bama's other point guard, Justin Coleman, had six assists with one turnover. Retin Obasohan had his best game of the year, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds, with two steals and two assists. Obasohan is rounding into shape after off-season ankle surgery, and will be a valuable reserve for the Tide going forward. DeMarcus Daniels led the Ospreys with 14 points, while Chris Davenport added 11 points.
'Bama shot 28-53 (52.8%) from the field, 7-23 (30%) from three point range and 13-18 (72.2%) from the free throw line. North Florida shot 20-50 (40%) from the field 7-15 (47%) from the three point line and 14-19 (74%) from the free throw line. This was the first game Alabama has won when the opponent had more free throw attempts in a game.The Tide won the rebound battle 36-26, and is 8-0 when out-rebounding their opponents this year. Alabama also distributed a season-high 18 assists, but also committed 14 turnovers.
Going into the conference schedule, Randolph leads the team in scoring, at 16.2 ppg. Tarrant is averaging 13 points per game. And Cooper adds 10.7 per game. Kessens leads the team in rebounding with 5.5 per game, followed closely by Jimmie Taylor at 5.4 per game. Randolph leads in assists with 37 and steals with 21. Taylor has blocked 25 shots on the season to lead that category.
The Tide opens SEC play on Tuesday, January 6th, hosting Texas A@M at 8:00 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum. While the game that will be shown on the SEC Network, if you are in the area, come out on Tuesday and support the Tide. If that isn't possible, at least try catch it the televised broadcast, and get behind this team. With football over, throw some love toward the hard court and help these student athletes reach their goals.
Ed. Note: Roger does play-by-play of Alabama men's hoops, and in the spring he covers Tide baseball. Follow him on Twitter at @rogerpatmyers for live in-game updates