You would have thought Alabama’s football defense suited up and was on the court at the start of the Tide's game with Ball State Friday night, as both teams failed to score for the first five minutes of the game. Riley Norris's two free throws finally broke the dam, and the points flowed for the Tide thereafter.
The starting five of Norris, Dazon Ingram, Jimmie Taylor, Corban Collins and Bola Olaniyan combined for only 18 points in the game, with Ingram notching eight of those. The bench guys lead the way with Shannon Hale getting hot early. He had 13 in the first half, and finished with a season-high 19. JUCO sharpshooter Ar'Mond Davis was 5-7 from three-point range and scored 17. Avery Johnson, Jr. had by far his best day as a collegian, finishing with a Dazon-like box score: He finished 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out six assists, while also snatching three steals in just 18 minutes of action.
After the slow start, the Tide raced out to a 13-point lead, before the Cardinals were drew a questionable foul call on a three-pointer right before the half. The made free throws put ‘Bama in control at the half, 36-26, ‘.
The Tide shot 26-61 (43%) from the field, but hit a sizzling 12-23 (52%) from three-point range. Free throw shooting continues to be an achilles heel for 'Bama, however. The Tide made only 13-of-22 for 59%. (Ball State shot comparably to the Tide at 42% (23-54,) but went a dismal 4-17 (23%) from three point range.) The Cardinals, unlike Alabama, did well at the stripe, hitting of 9-12 free throws (75%.) After dominating Dayon on the glass, Alabama and Ball State both tallied 36 rebounds: Taylor, Ingram and Johnson, Jr. lead Bama with 5 rebounds each.
The Tide did have a huge advantage in turnovers, committing only 11 while Ball State had 21 errors. The Tide continued to improve its helpers, and ‘Bama had 12 assists. But defensively is where ‘Bama really shone: The Tide had five blocks and an incredible 14 steals.
Alabama was undoubtedly tired and a little banged up after Tuesday’s slugfest with Dayton. Coach Avery Johnson leaned heavily on the bench, to both rest some starters and to work on a bench that has six new players on the roster. Eleven guys played double-digit minutes (and one just missed, playing nine minutes.) Ingram was in for 23 minutes, and he and Ar’Mond Davis (21 minutes) lead the way.
Ingram, Norris and Braxton Key sat out yesterday's practice with various ailments, and were somewhat limited in the game. Although Ingram's 23 minutes lead the team, that was much less than the 37 minutes he played Tuesday vs Dayton. The 16 minutes on the floor by Norris was his season low, as was Key's 19 minutes. (Key had to leave the court at one point, and he returned wearing a different jersey number. His No. 25 had to be swapped for No. 14, because his usual kit was covered in blood. No arrests were made at the bloody crime scene.)
When the Tide knocks down shots like they did Friday, they can be a very good team. On Tuesday versus Dayton, Alabama couldn't throw the ball in the ocean, but tonight was a different story. Johnson, Jr. energized the team and played by far his best game. Hale was involved way more than normal, a by-product of hitting a couple of early shots, which he built on. Davis is a shooter without a conscience, and he will fire away at will. When he is hitting, that is a great thing. But, when he is off like he was on Tuesday, it is not good for Alabama’s chances.
A lot of people were looking for the Tide to tighten their rotation in this game, but Coach Johnson did just the opposite, with more players playing more minutes than in the previous games. Johnson, Jr., who has not impressed in the first couple of games, was dynamic — hitting shots, pushing the ball, finding the open man and even crashing the boards. An engaged Hale has a huge upside, but keeping him interested can be a chore. Overall, having depth is a new thing for the Tide, and it is nice to have guys to pick up the slack when someone is hurt or has an off night.
The Tide plays again on Monday night in Las Vegas against Valparaiso at 11 p.m. CST. Alabama will face either BYU or Saint Louis on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. or 11 p.m Central. No television is listed for either game. If the team can come back with a couple of wins against quality opponents, they will be well on their way to a successful pre-SEC record.
Roll Tide and Buckle Up