Stop me if you have heard this before (believe me, you haven't): the Alabama basketball team defeated Wichita State on Sunday by a score of 90-86 AT THE FREE THROW LINE. Yes, long the nemesis of the Tide, the players combined to make 31-33 from the charity stripe.
The Tide stuck with their usual starting lineup of John Petty, Kira Lewis, Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, and Galin Smith. Strong bench play, 32 points, helped key the victory. Hall seemed to be back in coach Avery Johnson’s dog house on Sunday, after a productive game on Friday. In Thursday’s opening round loss to Northeastern in the Charleston Classic, Hall played 19 minutes without scoring a point. The senior from Luverne bounced back on Friday and recorded a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds in the victory over Ball State. On Sunday, he seemed to be back in a funk and Johnson limited him to 15 minutes, and his only points of the game came on two free throws with about three minutes left in the game.
Bama raced out to a 46-34 halftime lead, primarily behind strong play from Petty, Jones, and Alex Reese. Reese had only played a combined nine minutes in the first two games of the tournament, but with Hall carrying two fouls and Smith sent to the lockerroom after an elbow to the face, he was forced into action. At the break, Jones and Petty had nine points, and Reese added eight. Tevin Mack gave spark off the bench as well with five first half points.
The Tide scorched the nets in the first stanza, going 16-27 from the field (59%), including 6-11 (55%) from the three point line, and 8-9 from the free throw line. Bama seemed to have the game under control as second half play began, but Wichita State chipped away by continually getting into the lane unabated and attacking the offensive glass. The Shockers eventually tied the game at 69 with just over seven minutes remaining.
The young freshman, Lewis, calmly drained a three for the Tide, giving the team a lead that they never relinquished, and salted away at the charity stripe. Lewis, Reese, and Ingram combined to go 24-25 to help keep the Tide in front down the stretch.
In the second half, the Tide cooled down to 9-22 (40%) and 3-8 (38%) from deep, but 23-24 from the free throw line. For the game, Bama finished 25-49 (51%) and 9-19 (48%) from three, and 31-33 (94%!!) from the free throw line. Alabama won the battle of the boards by a 32-28 margin, and dished out 14 assists against 12 turnovers.
Johnson again shortened the rotation with nine players seeing action, but Avery Johnson, Jr. only played eight minutes. Hall and Reese played 15 minutes each, and Smith logged 19 minutes, as Johnson went “small” for long stretches of the game. Despite getting banged up a couple of times, Petty again played the most with 36 minutes. The mercurial freshman, Lewis, saw 33 minutes of action. Jones had 29 minutes, Ingram 25, and Mack 20.
Lewis had a career high 24 points, shooting 6-9 from the field and 11-11 from the stripe. Reese took advantage of his minutes and also had a career high with 19 points, 4-7 from the field, 2-5 from deep, and 9-10 from the free throw line. Jones and Petty added 13 points each. Ingram had a solid eight points and added a team leading five assists. Jones had the most rebounds with six, followed by Ingram and Petty with five apiece.
It was great for the Tide to beat their nemesis, Wichita State, still coached by the very unlikable Gregg Marshall. Marshall was Bama’s top candidate to replace Anthony Grant went he was let go, but led Bill Battle on long enough to get at big raise from the Shockers.
When this team plays fast and makes shots, they have a chance to be dangerous. Tightening the rotation has been a big boost to the chemistry and for the ability of the players to get in a rhythm. Hall needs to get out of whatever funk he is in, because an athletic big man that can run the court can be really helpful. Smith gives maximum effort, but is a plodding big with bad hands and slow feet. A rotation that gets Mack, Ingram, and Reese with the five that start seems ideal, and if Mack (or Reese) replaced Smith in the starting lineup I don't think anyone’s feelings would be hurt.
The Tide gets a few days off before taking the court again on Monday, November 26th, as they host last season’s Ohio Valley Conference Champions Murray State (2-0) at 7 p.m. The game will be available on SEC Network Plus, Watch ESPN App.
Roll Tide, and Buckle Up, there is a lot of season left.
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