The Alabama Crimson Tide raced out of the gates early and rode the hot hand of Justin Coleman to a 38-26 halftime lead over the Oregon Ducks in the first Vulcan Classic at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. The rainy night and late start time didn't detour 14,500 rowdy fans from turning out.
At one point in the first half the home town hero, Coleman, scored 12 straight points to give the Tide a 17-8 lead. Coleman, a legend in Birmingham High School hoops, prepped at Wenonah and led the Dragons to a state title in the very arena where tonight's game was held.
The 12 point halftime margin against a very good Ducks team had the crowd rocking. Coleman received help from Arthur Edwards with nine points and Jimmie Taylor and Riley Norris with five each. The Tide blistered the first half nets to the tune of 56% (14-25) and 63% from the three point line (5-8). Free throw shooting continued to be an Achilles heel for the team only shooting 59% (5-9) in the first half. Oregon was only 9-28 (32%) from the field and 1-7 from three point range in the first half. The Ducks did hit 7-8 from the free throw line to stay somewhat close.
In the second half, Oregon came out and showed why they are a highly thought of team that should be in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks used their length and their quickness to pressure the Tide into turnovers and defensive lapses. They back-doored the Tide to death, running free on the baseline for dunk after dunk. A run of 21-6 gave the Ducks a 47-44 lead with 13:53 left in the game.
'Bama managed to keep the margin to around six for most of the second half before Coleman nailed back-to-back threes to tie the game at 60 apiece. Norris hit a three and a wild flip shot to knot the game at 65 with 2:22 remaining. In the final two minutes the Tide had some chances, but Norris and Retin Obasohan both missed open three point attempts that would have tied the game, Norris' with 19 seconds left. Edwards nailed a three with six seconds left to close the margin to two, but Oregon made two late free throws for the final margin.
The roles reversed in the second half as the Tide shot only 37% from the field and 30% from three while Oregon improved to 53% from the field and 56% from behind the arc. The Ducks out-rebounded the Tide 35-30 and forced 14 turnovers including nine steals.
Coleman led the Tide with 24 points and six assists in 36 minutes of action. Edwards added 12 points with four rebounds and two assists. Norris tossed in 12 of his own and tied Taylor for team lead with five rebounds. Obasohan had a tough night, shooting 1-9, missing all four of his three point attempts, and scored only five points with one rebound. Ducks star Dillon Brooks had 23 points and got help in the form of 15 points from Jordan Bell, 11 from Chris Boucher and 10 from Tyler Dorsey. All of Boucher and Dorsey's points came in the second half.
The Tide once again played without starting freshman point guard Dazon Ingram, out for the season after foot surgery, and starting forward Shannon Hale, who missed his second straight game with a "medical condition." 'Bama had risen to 15 in RPI ranking prior to the game, and the loss to a very good team shouldn't hurt that number much. To be at 7-3 at this point in the season is probably more than most people expected. With two more non-conference games before SEC play begins the team has a real shot at starting 9-3.
'Bama is going to have to get more consistent play out of the inside players: Taylor, Michael Kessens, and Donta Hall. Hale returning should help in that area, as long as he "wants to play". When properly motivated, Hale has the size and ability to be a big contributor for the team, but at times disappears and seems disinterested.
After a break for Christmas, the Tide returns to action next Tuesday, December 29th at home in a 7 pm tip with Jacksonville State. The game will be available on SEC Network Plus. Also follow me on twitter @rogerpatmyers for live in game updates.
Roll Tide and Buckle Up