All year, we’ve talked about how this Alabama team has a bevy of lengthy, athletic players that should make their defense a nightmare for opponents, while also possessing an offense capable of quick ball-movement both in and out of the lane to take advantage of their size in the lane.
For much of the season, those two major strengths have shown up in varying degrees, but sometimes are derailed by the Tide offense going cold on their shooting or the other team going hot on their 3-point shots.
Tonight, in the biggest game of the season, it all came together at once.
Alabama opened up with a 3-point basket from the ever-streaky John Petty, and continued to keep pace with Oklahoma’s high-scoring attack with back-to-back dunks from Donta Hall.
The two teams kept pace for a while, but a flurry of three point shots (two from Petty, one from the 3-point center, Alex Reese) and just generally impressive offense launched Alabama up to a 27-15 lead that had Coleman Coliseum rocking. Oklahoma did manage to settle down though, and slowly chipped away at the lead. Fortunately, high-energy freshman Herbert Jones was a thorn in their side on both sides of the court, especially down the final stretch of the first half. He was involved in causing all kinds of chaos on defense, messing with Oklahoma’s passes and dribbles while also making some transitional plays off of turnovers. All said, Alabama went to halftime with an encouraging 41-35 lead.
Alabama continued to play well, limiting Trae Young to not-astronomical amounts of points while making enough big plays, but Oklahoma’s offense started to catch fire, and they fought their way to a 60-55 lead with 11 minutes left in the game, and it looked all the world like Alabama just wouldn’t quite have enough juice to hang with the 12th ranked Sooners.
Instead, the Tide played up the moment, rather than letting it overwhelm them. Just when they most needed to turn things around, they went on a 13-0 run led by fiery defense and back-to-back three point shots from Braxton Key, who’s struggled to find his groove all season as he’s tried to return from his offseason surgery.
Finally, Oklahoma hit a 3-point shot of their own to break the streak, but instead of letting it kill their momentum, Alabama kept up the defensive intensity. They frustrated star point guard Trae Young with tight, aggressive defense to the point that he started visibly sulking and spent the final minute of the game on the bench while Oklahoma waved a white flag, despite only being down 8 points. They could have continued to foul and try to extend the game— much crazier things have happened in college basketball— but Young and company were so frazzled from the aggressive defense in such a raucous court that their coach called it quits as the Tide players dribbled around in circles for the last minute of the game. Final score: Alabama 80-Okalahoma 73.
Alabama shot 55% on the night: a product of really working the ball into the lane right into the belly of a soft Oklahoma defense. Meanwhile, the Tide players hit 42% on their three point shots, which was enough to keep the Sooners’ defense from constricting too tightly inside for fear of any of 5 different Tide players making them pay for it.
Meanwhile, the Alabama defense blocked 12(!) shots and got 8 steals. They were all up in the face of Young the entire game, whether he had the ball or not, and Donta Hall was a force in the middle with all the undeniable power of gravitational pull as he blocked 8 shots on his own.
Collin Sexton looked to have recovered from his injury as he led the team with 18 points tonight, most coming from driving into the lane and making the tough layups. Not showing up on the stat sheet is how kept the entire Oklahoma defense focused on him, creating open opportunities for his teammates.
Herb Jones was right behind him with 14 points. He was a spark of energy on both offense and defense all game. He padded his stats with 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 assists, and a block. And those don’t even include the number of times he disrupted passing lanes and just inflicted chaotic pestilence on the Oklahoma offense all night.
Braxton Key picked a good time to have the best game of his season. He scored 11 while also leading the team with 7 rebounds and adding 2 steals and 2 assists. Donta Hall and John Petty scored nine apiece, with all of Petty’s points coming on those three 3-pointers in the first half before he disappeared the rest of the game.
Dazon Ingram round out the main rotation with 8 points of his own and tied with Jones for the team lead with 3 assists.
This was a huge win for Alabama, taking down the #12 team in the nation and arguably the best player in the nation. It was good for the fans to get so involved, and it’s been a long time since Alabama has pulled off a basketball win of this magnitude.
The defense solidified with Avery Johnson seeming to settle on a more consistent rotation of players while the offense heavily benefited from Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram recovering from their shooting slumps to hit enough 3-pointers to keep the opposing defense from keying in on Sexton and Hall around the rim. The emergence of Herbert Jones has really sparked a lot of energy and life into the team’s offense and defense.
If Alabama plays this well every week, the NCAA tournament will be guaranteed. The hard part is going to be keeping up that kind of intensity. But watching Coach Johnson settle down his rotations while the team cleaned up their shooting consistency is extremely encouraging.
Buckle up, and Roll Tide!!!