After a disappointing start in non-conference play to a season with high expectations, Alabama is now undefeated (1-0) in the SEC after taking down a talented, if inexperienced, Mississippi State squad.
Both teams started cold, missing shots left and right to the tune of scoring a combined 14 points in the first 5 and a half minutes of the ball game, with Alabama trailing by as much as 6 points early. Halfway through the first half, Avery Johnson Jr. came off the bench a sparked the Tide with 5 points and a rebound over the course of about 20 seconds. A few possessions and a Braxton Key dunk later, Alabama had suddenly turned a 3-9 deficit into a 19-11 lead, and never looked back. The Tide led by as much as 13 points before entering halftime up by a score of 32-20.
All credit to the Bulldogs, as they were resilient and played with an edge while chipping away at the Alabama lead throughout the first 10 minutes of the first half, eventually tying the game up at 42 each. Though never riding any hot streak, Alabama weathered the storm with it’s veteran leadership, namely Riley Norris playing well near the end of the game, and slowly but emphatically put the game out of reach by getting 14 points ahead by the 2 minute mark. There were never any crazy moments or hot streaks to signify a shift, just Alabama buckling down and playing like the better team en route to a convincing victory.
Three players broke into double digit scoring, and those three also led the team in minutes played. Avery Johnson Jr., Dazon Ingram, and Riley Norris had 13, 13, and 11 points, respectively. Ingram added 9 rebounds (only one away from his second double-double in as many games) and led the team with 4 assists.
Braxton Key was next with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and an assist, and really played better than his stats indicate. He made some very impressive passes, displaying good court vision in both half-court and breakaway offensive situations. Jimmie Taylor also added 9 points off the bench.
Donta Hall started over Jimmie Taylor, and added 6 points of his own, plus was his usual intimidating self on defense, seemingly getting in the way of any shot the Bulldogs tried to put into the air.
Bola Olaniyan, Shannon Hale, and Corban Collins rounded out the contributors, adding in 7 points and 10 rebounds between them.
As a team, Alabama shot a fairly impressive 44% from the court all day, though the 23% outing from the 3 point line could use some work. They also hit 77% of their free throws, which, while only a fairly respectable number, shows tremendous improvement over the atrocious first part of this season.
As a team, Alabama severely outrebounded the bulldogs to the tune of 43-26. They easily won the turnover battle, and easily won the game. Funny how that works.
It was encouraging to see the Tide never suffer any severe hot-and-cold streaks that have plagued them in the past. They started a little slow at the beginning of both halves, but were consistent throughout the rest of the game. Sure, it was just Mississippi State, but it was still a very solid win against a conference foe, and I look forward to watching this team continue to improve throughout the meat of the season.