The Alabama men's basketball team started the new year off right, and finished their non-conference schedule with a 68-49 victory over the Norfolk State Spartans. The win gives the Tide a 9-3 record, while NSU falls to 5-10 on the year.
In front of a generously-announced crowd of 10,884, senior Retin Obasohan bounced back from a couple of subpar games, tying a career high and leading the team with 23 points. The Belgium native went 9-12 from the field, including 3-6 behind the three-point arc. Fellow senior Arthur Edwards added 15 points, hitting 5-9 from three-point range. Scrappy Riley Norris continued his fine play, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.
The Tide took a 33-28 half time lead, on the back of hot three-point shooting (6-14), while only shooting 41% (10-24) overall. Free throw shooting was better with a 7-9 mark in the first stanza.
'Bama came out hot in the second half, playing aggressive defense, grabbing steals, and forcing turnovers. Runs of 15-5 and 16-3 put the game out of reach early and the Tide cruised to victory thereafter. After struggling with NSU using man-to-man defense early, Bama switched to a trapping zone to help guide the Tide to victory.
Alabama hit half of their shots in the second half, going 12-24 from the field, including 5-10 from the three-point line, while also knocking down 6-8 at the stripe. The Tide held the Spartans to 7-28 shooting in the second half, and 4-13 from the three-point line.
'Bama, for one of the few times this year, won the battle of the boards 36-29. Michael Kessens led the team with nine, with four of those off of the offensive glass. Norris added eight boards and Jimmie Taylor chipped in with seven. Justin Coleman was the leading assist man with six.
Shannon Hale played for the first time in four games, and contributed 14 minutes off of the bench. Hale showed signs of rust from his lay off and scored only two points on a pain of free throws.
Donta Hall continues to bring energy and athleticism to the post, and scored two points on a fast break dunk, while grabbing three rebounds and blocking two shots in his 17 minutes on the court.
Jeff Short led the Spartans with 16 points and D'shon Taylor and Preston Bungei added eight points apiece. Jordan Butler was the leading rebounder with eight.
For a team picked by most to finish 13th out of 14 in the SEC, a 9-3 record going into conference play is a welcome sight. Playing a tough schedule and having no bad losses has helped the teams RPI and raised their profile around the country. Defeating two ranked teams (Wichita State and Notre Dame) in back to back games in November is unprecedented for 'Bama basketball over the past 10 years. Throw in a road win at Clemson and the Tide has a nice early season resume.
Now comes the tough part. Conference play begins Thursday night with a road game to Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels. The game will be the first played in the Rebels new arena, The Pavilion at Ole Miss. The game is scheduled for a 8 p.m. CST tipoff and will be televised on ESPNU.
Things don't get any easier for the Tide as they then host the Kentucky Wildcats two days later on Saturday, January 9 at 5 p.m. in Coleman.
The Tide will continue to live and die by the three-point shot (funny to hear that, right?) In the games they have shot it well, they have won, or had a chance to win. When the long distance isn't connecting, the team does not have the inside game to be able to pound the ball inside. Taylor, Kessens and Hall just are not big scorers on the interior. Hale's return should help some in that regard.
Roll Tide and Buckle Up.