They said you can't draw a crowd for basketball in December, with school out, in Tuscaloosa. They said Bama has to play out of town home games during the holidays to fill up the arena. They were wrong. They should have been in Coleman on Saturday night, December 30th, two days prior to the football team playing in the Sugar Bowl, with no students on campus. They would have witnessed a raucous near-capacity crowd of over 14,000 helping pull the Tide to a convincing 79-57 win over the 5th ranked Texas A&M Aggies. The win was Alabama’s first over a top five team since the 2004 victory over top ranked Stanford in the Mark Gottfried era. That team made the elite eight for the only time in Alabama basketball history.
Coming off a lethargic loss eight days ago to the Texas Longhorns in Birmingham, the Tide faced a “must win” situation, at least from a perception standpoint. Texas was playing without their leading scorer, but spanked the Bama squad 66-50. The Aggies from College Station came to town with an 11-1 record and a lofty ranking, but were playing without two of their best players, leading scorer D.J. Hogg (14.6 pig) and third leading scorer, Admon Gilder (12.7ppg).
The Tide learned prior to the game that senior forward Riley Norris would be lost for the rest of the season after he was unable to bounce back from a preseason hip injury that will now require surgery.
Collin Sexton came out hot for the Tide, scoring seven early points before the Aggies could ever get on the board. Fellow freshman John Petty soon joined him in the scoring column with a couple of early three point baskets. TAMU eventually was able to cut into the Tide’s early lead, and trailed by only 35-28 at the half as Bama missed a couple of free throws and an easy basket down low.
At the half Bama was 12-32, including 3-12 (25%) from deep and was 8-11 (73%) from the free throw line. TAMU was 11-37 for 29% including a goose egg, 0-10 from deep and shot 6-7 for 86% from the free throw line.
To start the second half the Aggies pulled within five, but when Sexton got hammered into the goal standard on a breakaway for a flagrant one foul call ( two shots and the ball), the Tide was off and running. Sexton coaxed both free throws through the hoop on a bounce and a roll, and preceded to do his best Sherman (Williams) Shake impersonation.
The Tide continued to blow and go, playing fast and loose. Donta Hall got the benefit of some great passes from Sexton, Petty, and then a glorious alley-oop from Dazon Ingram for a 51-38 lead. Petty then nailed two long three pointers and the rout was on. TAMU never got closer than 13 points from that point forward.
Alabama finished the game with fan favorite Lawson Schaffer and new walk on Tyler Barnes on the floor, AGAINST THE FIFTH RANKED TEAM IN THE COUNTRY. The Tide blistered the nets in the second half at a 56% clip (14-25) with 4-11 from deep and 12-13 from the charity stripe. For the game the home team was 26-57 (46%), 7-23 (30%) from three point range and a very impressive 20-24 (83%) from the line. BAMA out rebounded one of the NCAA’s top rebounding teams 43-42, and had 12 assists, nine blocks, seven steals, and 12 turnovers. The Aggies shot awful to put it bluntly. 21-70 for 30% including a dismal 2-21 from three point range (9.5%) and 13-20 from 65% from the free throw line. Along with their 42 rebounds they had nine assists, seven steals, two blocks and 12 turnovers.
Petty led the balanced scoring attack with 18 points on 6-10 shooting (5-9 from deep), and was followed by Hall with 17 points, six rebounds, two blocks and an assist. Sexton didn't shoot well from the field (3-12), but was 9-10 from the free throw line and had 16 points and two assists. Ingram added 16 of his own, and also had six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Although he only scored two points, Braxton Key had his best game since returning from his knee injury three games ago, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out two assists and taking two steals while not turning the ball over at all. Herbert Jones continued his unheralded great play, leading the team with nine rebounds to go with four points, two assists and a block in 21 minutes.
The team that played Saturday night is that “fun to watch” team that everyone has been talking about since practice began in October. When they fly up and down the court and make a few shots, they can compete with anyone. Sexton made several “Oh my God, did you see that” plays, including a spinning dribble move to split a double team late in the game. The kid is special. Enjoy him until March, ‘cause he ain’t here for long.
Next up for the Tide are the Vanderbilt Commodores, who lost their SEC opener 81-74 to the Florida Gators. Vandy has struggled out of the gate and sits at 5-8 currently. However the game will be in Nashville, at Memorial Gym, a notoriously difficult place to get a win. With the elevated court and the benches at the end, visiting teams always seem to have a tough time in Nashville. Still, with the Tide’s young talent playing confidently, the team has a good chance to start 2-0 in league play.
Buckle Up and Roll Tide.