If someone had told Tide fans one week and one day ago that this Alabama team would win just one of the three game gauntlet ahead of then top-15-ranked Texas A&M, at Florida who had beaten the Tide 11 straight times, and finally on the road to take on the best player in the country in Ben Simmons and LSU, most would have been ecstatic. This team, picked 13th out of the 14 teams in the SEC, wasn't even supposed to be around .500 in Avery Johnson's first year. But after Wednesday's win in Baton Rouge, which completed the sweep of the aforementioned three game gauntlet, the Tide find themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble for the time being.
Things were a bit shaky in the first half as LSU would keep the Tide at an arms' length for large portions of the opening 20 minutes. Alabama did a pretty nice job holding Simmons in check in the first half but the freshman did a nice job of facilitating for Craig Victor and Keith Hornsby. Alabama's first half offensive production would come from usual suspect Retin Obasohan and the streaky shooting Justin Coleman, who knocked down 3 three-pointers to keep the Tide within 5 at the half.
The second half couldn't have started much better for the visitors as Jimmie Taylor would get two around the rim followed by an Obasohan three to tie the game 40 seconds out of the locker room. After that, Simmons would go into hyper-drive for LSU, getting to the rim and free-throw line with ease to stake the Tigers to a 47-41 lead with 15 minutes to go until Justin Coleman converted a 4-point play to turn the game around for Alabama.
From there, Alabama went on a three-point barrage to take a small lead and the game went back and forth up until LSU's post presence Craig Victor, who led the Tigers with 21 points, picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to go in the game. Without Victor's rim protection, Alabama's 1st-team All-SEC candidate Obasohan got to the rim and free throw line whenever he wanted, finishing with a career high 35 points and going a perfect 11/11 from the free throw line. Free throws would prove to be one of Alabama's saving graces in this game as LSU went 20/35 (Simmons 10/19), while the Tide shot an excellent 15/18.
Lost in Obasohan's career day and Coleman's 21 point outing was Sophomore Riley Norris's 16 rebounds as he continues to be this teams glue guy, bringing rebounds, defense, and occasional scoring. Arthur Edwards also chipped in some very timely threes while playing stellar defense. I just cannot overstate how enjoyable this team continues to be to watch/cover. The chemistry and belief in one another and this first year coaching staff is truly special.
This win won't put Alabama in the NCAA Tournament field by itself. There is still work to be done, beginning Saturday in a must-win game at home against Mississippi State (This team really deserves a sell-out crowd to come home to so please show up and be loud. Yeah you too, season ticket holders) but it does in all likelihood give Avery Johnson's team control of its own destiny. 4-1 in the last five regular season games would leave no doubt about this team's tournament fate and 3-2 with a win in Nashville would likely get the job done as well, which is nothing short of incredible. Buckle up indeed, Coach Johnson.