If you weren’t already excited and #buckledup for the 2017-2018 Tide basketball squad, now’s the time to do so.
The big news was that All-Everything super freshman Collin Sexton finally got to make his college debut after missing Friday’s season opener due to NCAA shenanigans. He was everything we had hoped, and more, tonight.
Early on, the Tide players did not seem to expect that Lipscomb would actually be a pretty decent team with some sharpshooters, and quickly found themselves in a 5-2 hole in the first minute and a half of the game. Alabama fortified, and the teams traded the lead back and forth through the teens until the Tide had a 5 point lead at 21-16. The two teams hung around that spread until Galin Smith made a basket with 4 minutes left to get the Tide up 38-29, and it looked all the world like Alabama was going to hit 50 points by halftime.
Suddenly, the drought came upon both teams, and Lipscomb managed two free throws to close the half at 38-31. The halftime adjustments didn’t seem to do much good either, as it took 5 possessions into the second half before Donta Hall finally slammed down a dunk to break the monotony. Lipscomb managed to get the game down to a single point deficit at 43-42. From there, Alabama started to slowly pull away under the explosive efficiency of Sexton, John Petty, and Dazon Ingram.
With 7 minutes left in the game, Lipscomb was down 9 points at 65-56. A deficit, but still within quick striking distance from turning the game around. That’s when Dazon Ingram went NBA on some fools and drove from the free throw line and threw down and emphatic one-handed dunk that broke some spirits. After some turnover shenanigans on the other side of the court, Alabama got a breakaway, and Ingram tossed a no-looker into the air while Herb Jones came in behind him for an easy alley-oop. A few seconds later, Donta Hall got a steal and gave it to Sexton, who raced down the court and dropped a no-look backwards pass back to Hall who slammed it in for Alabama’s 6th point in a minute.
After that, Lipscomb started going for low-percentage shots as Bama kept scoring, and the game ended with walk-ons Lawson Schaffer and Landon Fuller running out the clock to a final score of 86-64.
As a team, Alabama shot 59.6% on the night. An absolutely insane efficiency number that we haven’t seen in an Alabama team in a long, long time. It was boosted by a new-look offense based around the guards passing into the paint to the forwards and wing players. There was movement underneath the basket I’ve never seen before in my years of watching Bama hoops, and the team’s passing and moving prowess really showed tonight.
There were some errant three-pointers, but despite that Alabama still managed to hit 33% of them. As a team, 17 assists, 10 blocks, and 9 steals led to what was a very explosive and fluid night for the Tide team - outside of the few minutes before and after halftime.
There were three areas where the team really struggled though: the players often got lost on defense, letting Lipscomb players free for open 3-point shots. Fortunately, they had a bad shooting night, but the open looks were there all game. They also outrebounded Alabama 47-40, and it felt much worse than that.
Lastly, the elephant (not Big Al) in the room: the free throw shooting. This plagued the team last year, and it looks like it infected all the freshmen too. As a team, Alabama shot 37.5% (12/32) on the night from the free throw line. They were 4% off from shooting better from beyond the 3-point line than the free throw line. Think about that.
Collin Sexton was the star of the night, scoring 22 points while adding 5 assists and 2 steals. He was all over the place, and is unquestionably the team’s point guard going forward. He can hit 3 pointers, drive into the paint, and dish out awesome passes, all while being exceptional at moving while off-ball and playing tight man-to-man defense with non-stop energy all game.
Fellow freshman John Petty took some rushed shots, but also took a lot of good ones, and ended up second on the team with 14 points while adding 3 assists and 6 rebounds. Dazon Ingram added some veteran leadership while simultaneously displaying his unique size and slashing ability to drive into the paint and force mismatches against smaller guards. He ended up with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal, and a block.
Donta Hall and Daniel Giddens were the other two starters, as Alabama opened up with two centers. Hall racked up 10 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a steal, while Giddens scored 3 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Galin Smith and Alex Reese both rotated in as forwards, and added 5 and 4 points, respectively, while Reese ended up leading the team with 9 rebounds. Smith looked lost quite often early on, but started to get his bearing as the game went on. Reese generally played well, though he was a little over-confident in his 3-point shots, it seemed.
Herb Jones also played significant minutes. He only scored 6 points, but was generally all over the court and involved in plays on defense and passing the ball around.
Avery Johnson Jr. looks comfortable in his role as a change-up point guard, and is still much the same as he was last year with his lightning-quick slashing ability to take the ball into the paint and somehow float a ball up between like 30 people to softly make it’s way into the basket. It never makes any sense, but it works.
Coach definitely has his work cut out for him in fixing the defensive lapses and total incompetence at the free throw line, but the change in this team from the previous years is stark. There is a smoothness to the offense that seems totally alien to the last decade of Bama hoops, and this team has a real shot at being a very, very good team.