Well. That may have been the best Alabama basketball game I have watched in years. Whether the effort was for former Coach Anthony Grant, senior Levi Randolph, or just the fact that the team actually had some energy, the Crimson Tide gave this game everything they had. Alabama was an unstoppable machine the entire first half, scoring an outstanding 46 points, and cruised to a 79-58 victory by the time everything was said and done.
The game opened with Randolph hitting a three point shot in the first 10 seconds, and Illinois responded with two jumpers to take the lead 4-3. It was the first and last time they held the lead. The Tide went on a 20-0 run over the next eight minutes and never slowed down. At one point, the Tide had triple the amount of points as Illinois (36-12), and Levi Randolph by himself had more points than the Fighting Illini (13 to their 12). Illinois finally managed to stall the Tide's attack for the final 2 minutes of the half and held the Tide at 44. Illinois' Malcolm Hill attempted a three point shot 7 seconds left to end the half, but Retin Obasohan miraculously blocked the shot from outside the three point arc and raced down the court for a layup as the buzzer sounded. The Tide led at the half by a score of 46-22.
The beginning of the second half provided no relief to the Illini, as Alabama forward Jimmie Taylor came out of the break with a violent slam dunk. The assault continued, and the Tide led by 30 points with 14 and a half minutes left in the game. Finally, Alabama took their foot off of the gas pedal. The Tide methodically scored 19 points as Illinois started to vainly hit their shots more often, and closed the game with a final score of 79-58.
Senior Levi Randolph played like a man possessed, doing everything from draining three point shots off of a blind spin to outracing the opponent down the court for a monster slam. He had 20 points, and was 7-11 from the court (2-3 from three point range) and added 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Senior Rodney Cooper made lightning-quick decisions and drives all night (where has that been for four years??) and was just behind Randolph with 19 points himself.
Retin Obasohan had an amazing game with 15 points (6-11 from the court) and filled his stat sheet with 7 rebounds, an assist, two steals, and two blocks. Its been a joy watching him improve so dramatically over the last month. Riley Norris actually had more minutes of playing time than everyone except Randolph, but only managed 4 points. His impact in the game, however, made up for his lack of shots. As usual, he was involved in EVERY loose ball scramble, and was pretty much always in the way of everything Illinois tried to do.
Jimmie Taylor had two NASTY dunks and totaled 7 points with a couple of blocks. He did, however, have the ball stripped from him underneath the basket on numerous occasions. Justin Coleman was 3-5 from the three point line, and scored 10 points in only 17 minutes of playing time. He continues to show flashes of the point guard he could become in the future. Michael Kessens grabbed 5 rebounds and 4 points in pretty extensive playing time. He continues to improve, but still does not look completely recovered from his mid-season injury.
Freshmen Devin Mitchell and senior Dakota Slaughter also got some playing time in mop-up duty, but did not add anything to the stat sheet.
It was a sweet win for the Tide. The offense played loose and fast, attacking the rim from every angle in a way Tide fans haven't seen in Alabama basketball in awhile The defense did its best to pay homage to Coach Grant, and was suffocating all game long. It was a complete game, and the Tide gets to advance to the next round of the NIT. Hopefully the energy of the team can attract a top notch coach to come to Alabama next season.
The Tide will next play No. 1 seed Miami (Fla.) at the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla., Saturday, March 21 at 10 a.m. CT on ESPN.