With one of the best teams in Alabama basketball history (the ‘86-’87 squad) looking on, the modern day version of the Crimson Tide defeated the hapless Missouri Tigers 68-56 on Wednesday night in Coleman Coliseum. The 30 year reunion of the SEC regular season and tournament champions was well attended by most of the players and coaches, including their head coach Wimp Sanderson, current NC State coach Mark Gottfried. Derrick McKey, Jim Farmer, Craig Dudley, Terry Connor, Bill DeVaughn, J.J. Jackson and Keith Askins were among the players honored at halftime. The win pushed the Tide’s record to 11-6 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. Missouri remained winless in conference play.
The 1976 team, led by Leon Douglas and Reggie King, is widely regarded as the best team in Tide history, but the ‘86-87 group was special. The play they witnessed on Wednesday wasn't. ‘Bama held a 26-19 halftime lead after starting slowly once again, hitting 10-30 shots from the field and 3-11 from the free throw line. Riley Norris was the lone bright spot, scoring 11 points on 4-6 shooting. Braxton Key, Donta Hall and Dazon Ingram were all saddled with foul trouble early in the half.
The Tide broke the game open in the second half by moving the ball well and knocking down some three point shots. Once the lead reached double digits, the Tigers never really had a chance to come back. MU entered the game as the worst three-point shooting team in the whole 351-member NCAA Division I at under 30%, but managed to hit 7-14 in this one to at least keep the game within reach.
The game would not have been close except for the continued ineptness of the Tide at the free throw line. For the game the team hit a putrid 13-28 from the stripe for 46%. At some point this type shooting will cost the team a game (or several.) There really is no excuse for athletes at this level to continue to miss at such an alarming rate.
‘Bama used their formula of tough defense and rebounding for the victory. Alabama once again won the boards by a margin of 39-31. Missouri shot 17-42 from the field for 40% and 15-23 for 65% from the free throw line. In the LSU game the Tide had more assists than turnovers for the first time in several games, but committed 12 turnovers to only nine assists on Wednesday. The ‘Bama defense did force 19 Tiger turnovers.
Norris and Avery Johnson Jr. led four players in double figures with 13 points each. Ingram added 12 and Key threw in 11. Jimmie Taylor played 23 minutes in relief of the foul-plagued Hall and grabbed nine rebounds. Key added seven rebounds and three assists to his stat line. Johnson, Jr. hit four of four free throws late, to get the team to the 46% mark that they finished with.
Coach Avery Johnson expanded his rotation out of necessity with foul trouble. All told, ten players saw action with nine of them playing double-figure minutes. Shannon Hale once again saw very limited time (6 minutes) and seems to have been passed by Ar’Mond Davis on the depth chart. Davis hit a pair of deep three pointers for six points in 14 minutes of play.
While it is great to be 4-1 early in SEC play, the team will have to shoot better, particularly at the FREE throw line. They are called free for a reason! With an offensively challenged team anytime they have a totally uncontested shot, they have to knock them down at a better rate. The chemistry and rotation is coming around, and the players are learning how to play together. The rebounding and defense have been outstanding, but the offense remains a challenge. If the offense comes more efficient, the team can make noise.
A two game road trip is next on the agenda, at Auburn on Saturday (3 p.m CT) and at Georgia on the 25th at 8 p.m. CT. The Auburn game will be shown on ESPN2 and the UGA game will be on ESPNU.
Roll Tide and Buckle Up