Even though Coach Avery Johnson says he wants to continue to play a game each year in Birmingham, he may want to rethink that strategy after the second straight year of a loss in the Vulcan Classic at the BJCC Legacy Arena. After blowing a double digit halftime lead and losing to Oregon last year, the Tide only blew an early 6-0 lead, in getting blown out by a much closer margin than it was, 67-54, by Clemson on Sunday.
The Tide was overmatched, out hustled, out coached, out shot, out schemed, out anything you can think of, other than rebounded and strangely, free throw shooting. ‘Bama won the battle of the boards against the bigger Tigers by a margin of 37-32, and the free throw challenged Tide shot 19-25 (76%) from the free throw line compared to 10-14 (71%) for Clemson.
Donta Hall, fresh off of his first two starts in which he set career highs in points in each game, drew another start, along with Braxton Key, Bola Olaniyan, Corban Collins and Dazon Ingram. Oliniyan got the Tide off to a quick start with two free throws and a basket, leading ‘Bama to an early lead, that quickly disappeared, and expanded to an unreachable margin. Oliniyan only played six minutes and finished with four points and one rebound. Avery Johnson, Jr. was the lone bright spot, leading the team in minutes with 28 and in points with 17. Shannon Hale chipped in eight points in 19 minutes, with no other player scoring more than six points in the game.
The Tide was buried midway through the first half when they went nine minutes without a field goal, shooting 0-11 with six turnovers during the stretch. At halftime the team was 6-23 from the field, including 1-6 from three point range. ‘Bama did pick it up somewhat in the second half, scoring 35 points on 10-27 shooting, with 2-14 from deep. On the game the final mark was 16-50 for 32% and a dreadful 3-20 for 15% from three point range.
Coach Johnson went small for much of the second half, with Hale playing the “5” spot (center), surrounded by Key, Johnson, Collins and Ingram. Although it seemed as if Clemson was hitting shots at will, they were only 24-55 for 43% from the field and 9-22 from three point dance for 41%. With the Tide shooting so horrifically, the Tigers shooting seemed much better.
Ten games into the season, with a 5-5 record things are getting dicey for the Tide in regard to post-season play. The SEC is an improved league and although ‘Bama was picked to finish seventh in preseason polls, at the level of play they are showing now, that will be a tall step to reach. There is some parts to work with, but CAJ is yet to come up with the right lineup and rotation to best utilize the parts. Key is a unique talent, along with Ingram. Hall, although he wasn't impressive on Sunday, shows a big upgrade on the inside over Jimmie Taylor. Johnson, Jr. brings energy and hustle, but can't be counted on as a consistent double digit scorer. Riley Norris and Shannon Hale are wildly inconsistent, but at least Norris puts forth maximum effort at all times. Collins is a senior leader, forced to play more minutes than he actually deserves.
The infusion of talent on the way for the 2017-18 season cannot get to Tuscaloosa fast enough. Until that time you better buckle up, strap in and hold on because this season seems like it will be quite a bumpy ride.
The Tide has another “home” game on Wednesday the 21st in Huntsville against Arkansas State, at 8 p.m. CT. Don't get me started on the Bingo Long All-Star tour of games away from home. Much like the football team belongs in Bryant Denny for home games, the basketball teams belongs in Coleman, AT HOME.
Roll Tide and Buckle Up