With that, the Crimson Tide's season is over, and a new era of Alabama basketball will begin. This season has been a long one with a Tide team that mostly underachieved all expectations. However, the last two games of the NIT tournament without Coach Antony Grant have actually been a breath of fresh air. Even in an overmatched loss to a very good Miami squad, the Crimson Tide played with an energy and offensive urgency that was lacking all season.
The game was back and forth from the onset with neither team being able to pull away from each other among a myriad of highlight plays from both teams, including a steal and reverse dunk by Levi Randolph.
After almost 10 minutes of play, the score was 17-15 favoring the Tide. Then Miami went on a 12-1 scoring streak to extend their lead to 9 points with 6 minutes left in the half. Junior point guard Retin Obasohan decided that he had enough of the Hurricanes, and took over the game for the rest of the half. He scored 9 points during a 16-3 scoring stretch for the Tide to go into halftime with a 34-30 lead.
Both teams came out of the half flat on offense. Alabama slowly extended their lead to 7 points before Miami started the comeback. The lead changed multiple times and the Tide led 47-45 with 11 minutes left in the game. Hurricane guard Deandre Burnett then made back-to-back three pointers and Miami never looked back. As the crowd got into the game, the Tide started trying to force three point shots to counteract the Hurricane onslaught. Alabama ended up shooting 22% as team from beyond the arc, while Miami shot an outstanding 39%. Their three point success was summed up in one moment when 7-foot center Tonye Jekiri hit the first three pointer of his career, a shot which bounced around the rim for a solid 5 seconds before dropping through the net. The crowd went wild at that, and Alabama couldn't overcome the intensity at which Miami finished the game.
Obasohan was the third leading scorer for the Tide with 11 points, but most of that was in the 6 minute run to end the first half. He added 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block, along with fouling out near the end of the game. He had a solid game overall, and looking very good driving to the basket from his point guard position.
Riley Norris only managed 6 points, and was 1-7 shooting from the court (1-5 from three point range). He had 4 rebounds and an assist, but all in all did not play one of his better games in crimson. Jimmie Taylor had a night to forget, as Jekiri shut down everything he tried to do. Taylor ended up going 0-5, including missing a wide open dunk. He also was 2-6 on free throws, and had a couple of turnovers.
Michael Kessens looked like a new man coming off the bench, hitting 5-6 shots for 10 points, and was aggressive and powerful driving underneath the rim. Justin Coleman, on the other hand, came off the bench to miss 4 three point shots. He did, however, lead the team with 3 assists.
Senior Rodney Cooper led the team with 20 points. He was lightning quick when driving to the basket, and made some impressive layups in traffic. His good shots were great, but his bad shots were awful, as quite a few shots fell well short of the basket or hit nothing but backboard. He was 3-8 from three point range. He also added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Senior Levi Randolph showed, once again, why he was the heart of this Alabama team this year. He was second on the team with 17 points, and also second on the team with 7 rebounds. He hit three point shots, dunks, reverse layups, and pull up jumpers from pretty much anywhere on the court. He was also a demon on defense with 4 steals (and contributed to a couple more). It has been an honor getting to watch Levi this year, and all four years he has been at the Capstone. The Academic All-American will be missed greatly next year.
The Tide played with great passion and energy and I could not ask for anything else of a team. In the end, Miami was just the better team, and deservedly advanced to the next round of the NIT.
Next year will be a totally different era of Bama basketball, as we will be breaking in a new coach and replacing seniors Randolph and Cooper. Hopefully, the Tide can build off of how they closed the season, especially in the previous game against Illinois.
See you all next year.