It wasn’t an impressive one, but not a discouraging one either. Appalachian State may not be a big name, but these small schools are always dangerous in basketball in ways that you just don’t see in football. Like most of the smaller schools, App State excels at shooting 3 pointers, and Alabama survived a 60% outing from the Mountaineers in that regard and still won by a solid 8 points.
For most of the first half, Alabama had no offensive identity or rhythm. Freshman point guard Kira Lewis had some moments and hit two 3-pointers to open the game, plus another 7 points to make his 1st half total of 13 points— nearly half of the Tide’s offensive output. Meanwhile, John Petty never really got any open looks, Donta Hall would disappear for long stretches, and Dazon Ingram and Herbert Jones had some issues with getting good looks to actually go into the basket.
At the same time, Coach Avery Johnson seemed determine to sub everyone every few plays, and at one point had an entirely different 5 players on the floor that those that started. While I understand the desire to develop depth and find chemistry, I also think that it sort of kept anyone from really getting into the flow of the game.
The second half started in much the same fashion. Alabama struggled to make field goals, but held their own at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, though not really capilizing on all the free throws. But the defense harried and harrassed the Mountaineers all night, even while senior Ronshad Shabazz hit 5/7 three point shots, and generally made their life difficult.
About halfway through the second half, things finally started to click for the Tide offense. While there were some subs still, the lineup of Lewis, Petty, Jones, Hall, and Ingram seemed to be the most effective five. They began to run the offense that we saw in flashes last season, where it feels like constant waves of guards driving into the lane and dishing back out until they either get an open shot or draw a foul.
After trailing 56-50, the Tide stormed back over the next 4 minutes to take a 63-57 point lead, and they never looked back after that. Ingram and Jones shot a million free throws while Lewis hit a few more baskets to keep the Tide out in front. Herbert Jones in particular was a one-man wrecking crew on defense, and seemed to mess up an App State offensive possession nearly every single trip down the court, it really was a herculean effort on his part.
Ultimately, Alabama played very well on defense all night and did a good job in the last 3rd of the game at moving the ball with pace on offense and getting open looks. Unfortunately, good offensive positioning and scheming don’t matter if you miss the shot— and the Tide missed a lot of them. Only 38% shooting on the night, with 6 airballs, if I remember correctly. They also got to attempt a staggering 43 free throws (yeah, it was a pretty boring game to watch), and only hit 60% of them.
The Tide dominated in steals, blocks, turnovers, rebounds, and shots taken. But the depressed shooting percentage kept the game closer than it should have been. Missing 17 free throws should be grounds for running sprints all week.
Kira Lewis has already worked his way into being an integral part of this offense. He has some big shoes to fill, coming in and replacing Collin Sexton, but he’s showed some real promise early in the season. He may not have the otherworldly athleticism that Sexton did, but I would argue that Lewis looks like a more mature and controlled point guard than Sexton did this early in the season. Lewis led the team with 21 points (shooting 50%) and only 1 turnover.
Herbert Jones was a monster on defense, but was a major contributor to lowering the shooting average for the Tide. He led the team with 4 steals and 4 assists, but only hit 2 out of 11 shots from the court and 6 out of 16 free throws. He was a difference maker all night, but has to improve his shooting as the season moves forward.
John Petty was 2nd on the team with 13 points. He was 2 out of 5 on three pointers, and looked much the same player as he was last year: a streaky distance shooter who can sometimes use his size when driving/handling the ball in the paint, but more often prefers to stay around the perimeter.
Donta Hall also had 12 points, and got another career double-double by grabbing 12 rebounds as well. He still needs more offensive consistency, but he did hit one mid-length jumper. Dazon Ingram had a nice game as well, racking up 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal. He did most of his damage drawing fouls and then hitting 100% of his free throws. He seems to finally be embracing his size and working as a hybrid guard/forward type of player.
All in all, it was a solid win that did show some promise as the team works to shake off an entire offseason of rust and also find a new identity without Collin Sexton. It wasn’t a statement win or anything, but it overall left me feeling more positive about the future of the team than I was going into the game.
Buckle up, and Roll Tide!