A loud, enthusiastic crowd of 9,000 plus greeted the Alabama Crimson Tide on a cold Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. Despite the weather, spring break, and a late (8:15) start, ‘Bama fans came out to support the team. However, the crowd left disappointed as the Richmond Spiders won the game by a score of 71-64.
The Spiders, out of the A 10, who improved to 21-10 on the season, are a unique team that surrounds conference player of the year, 6’9” T.J. Cline, with four small, fast, quick players. They are hard to match up with , and the Princeton style offense they run is not something that teams see often. On top of that, the Spiders shoot the ball very well and pass it extremely well. They are almost always in close games. And that experience showed.
‘Bama jumped out to an early lead but couldn't maintain it as Richmond continually blew past Tide defenders for layups. The Tide stayed within striking range in the first half, and tied the game at 20 before RU went on a five point spurt. The lead fluctuated between 5-7 points before the Tide closed to within 36-32 at half time.
After intermission Alabama came out on fire, and when Corban Collins nailed a three-point shot, ‘Bama had a 39-36 lead. It didn’t hold up. Richmond scored seven straight to retake the lead. ‘Bama claimed their last lead of the night, 45-44, on an old-fashioned three-point play by Dazon Ingram. With around eight minutes left the game was tied at 54, and despite having chances, the Tide never could get over the hump and recapture the lead.
With a little over four minutes remaining Richmond reached 64 points, which is the magic number for the Alabama defense. When teams score over 62 the Tide is 3-14 on the year. When holding a team under 62 they are 16-1. ‘Bama had opportunities to tie with three-pointers on a couple of occasions, but could not knock down the big shot. Missed shots resulted in having to foul the Spiders and they hit enough to keep the lead safe.
Richmond outshot the Tide 54% to 41%, including 39%-29% from three-point range. ‘Bama was a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line, while Richmond hit 73% of their free chances. Alabama, as usual, won the rebounding battle 33-27, and hauled in 12 offensive boards.
In his last game in a Tide uniform Corban Collins lead the team with 19 points, hitting 5-10 of his three point shots. Dazon Ingram was the only other player in double digits with 11. Ingram added three rebounds and six assists, and once again did not commit a turnover in the game. Bola Olinyian was the leading rebounder with seven. Riley Norris and Braxton Key both had seven points and five rebounds.
Atlantic-10 player of the year T.J. Cline had 15 points and six rebounds for the Spiders. Cline was the leading scorer, rebounder and assist man on the season for Richmond. The guy the Tide couldn't handle was little Shawndre’ Jones, who is generously listed at 6’0”. Jones continuously blew by Tide defenders to get to the basket and was the games leading scorer with 23 points. After loosening up the defense, he also the long shot to his repertoire, going 3-5 from three-point land.
Coach Avery Johnson couldn't quite figure out the match ups, and tried several things. The type game the Spiders play helped keep Jimmie Taylor and Donta Hall mostly on the bench. In his final game Taylor only played 10 minutes, and Hall saw 18 minutes of action.
All-in-all the season should be considered a moderate success. The win total improved from 18 last year to 19 this season. Both seasons ended in a first round loss in the NIT. However, this year’s version won 12 conference games (including two in the SEC Tournament) compared to eight last year. The Tide beat a ranked team on the road for the first time in several years. The Tide say goodbye to Taylor, Collins, Olaniyan, and Shannon Hale, who had been suspended since February and didn’t even play on Senior Night.
The Tide will welcome several new faces to next year’s roster. All-American players Collin Sexton and John Petty lead the way, and will bring along Alex Reese, Galin Smith and Herb Jones. Also Ohio State transfer, 6’11” Daniel Giddens will be eligible. With Braxton Key, Ingram, Norris and Hall still on the squad, the team should be much improved.
The future is bright so Buckle Up and “wait till next year.”