In what may have been one of the top ten ugliest games of college basketball I have ever witnessed, Alabama showed resiliency in coming back from a huge deficit to close out a game in the final minutes of a tight contest. In a game characterized by a combined 33 turnovers (21 of which were in the first half) and long scoring droughts, the Alabama players proved that they could finish a game, and commanded the final two minutes with stunning ruthlessness.
It was almost three minutes into the game before the Volunteers finally broke the ice and put the first points on the board. Donta Hall responded with a strong offensive rebound and put back before blocking a shot on the other side of the court. Michael Kessens scored next to take the lead, 4-2, and then Alabama forgot how to make the ball go into the hoop for next six minutes of play. With the aid of a couple of three point shots, Tennessee raced out to a 16-4 lead.
Alabama slowly worked their way back into the game as the half went on, as both teams sprinted up and down the court on chaotic breakaways that resulted both from impressive steals from the defenses and just horrendous passes from the offenses. Retin Obasohan managed to hit a jumper at the very end of the half to bring the Tide within one point, and the teams went into halftime with an ugly Tennessee advantage of 25-24.
Riley Norris made a couple of lay-ups to open the second half and gave Alabama its first lead since the very beginning of the game. Unfortunately for Alabama, the Volunteers suddenly were granted the blessings of the sun gods and made five three point baskets in a span of only about four minutes, led by the master assassin, Kevin Punter. The Volunteers led by a score of 48-33 at this point, and Alabama looked to have completely given up, with players standing around and seemingly texting their girlfriends while Punter stole their souls with his hyper-precise long range fire.
At this point, Coach Avery Johnson called maybe the best timeout of his entire coaching career. The Alabama defense held Tennessee from scoring for the next 8 minutes, and an earth-shaking dunk from Retin Obasohan brought the game to within one point. With the help of some rare free throws, Tennessee extended their lead to 6 points with a score of 55-49, but Obasohan and Shannon Hale stormed back to tie the game up with a minute and a half left.
With the game on the line and crowd in a frenzy, Arthur Edwards appeared from his vacation in the Bermuda Triangle to emphatically hit a three point shot with more confidence than a NASCAR driver in a left turn. After a desperate (and failed) three point heave from Punter, Retin Obasohan took the ball down the court himself and drew a foul on his layup to end the game on a three point play.
As usual, Obasohan led the team in scoring with 22 points, and also played the point guard position more effectively this week, leading the team with 5 assists. Shannon Hale was not far behind with 20 points of his own, 9 of which came off of free throws. He was also second on the team with 8 rebounds and a couple of steals.
Riley Norris, despite a low scoring output, had a huge game. He led the team with 13 rebounds and 3 steals, and managed to tip probably 10-15 more loose balls into the waiting hands of his other teammates. Arthur Edwards contributed a block and two steals to go along with his two beautiful three point shots at the beginning and end of the game, but was otherwise rather nonexistent despite playing for 33 of the 40 possible minutes this game.
Jimmie Taylor only played for 11 minutes, but also didn't have time to commit any fouls, so there's always a silver lining. In his absence, Michael Kessens grabbed 4 rebounds and a couple of points, while freshman Donta Hall got probably his most extensive playing time of the year. Hall fouled out, but often looked to be the only Tide player giving full effort on every single possession during his time on the court. He rewarded Alabama with 4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.
Make no mistake, this game was ugly. Tennessee attempted more 3 point shots than regular field goals, and missed most of them, while Alabama was just as determined to miss every open shot possible. Both teams spent what felt like a majority of the game chasing loose balls and sprinting up and down the court on failed breakaways. It definitely leaves Coach Johnson with even more to work on than before, but getting a critical win in the closing moments of the game against a rival team will have to do wonders for this team's confidence going forward.
Buckle up, everyone.