A quote from Eli Gold from the early minutes of the game summed up the entirety of it pretty well “Ja Morant has one assist so far, but he’d have three more if his teammates could make their shots.”
Gold and Wimp noted beforehand that 37 NBA scouts were on site to watch this game. Sure, Alabama has a few guys they probably wanted to keep their eyes on, like Donta Hall, Herbert Jones, and Kira Lewis, but they were there for the Morant show. The sophomore point guard is leading the nation in assists, and is about as dynamic of a player as you’ll find in college basketball. And he didn’t slow up tonight.
He stole the ball from Donta Hall on the first possession and took it back for a score, then hit another layup before the clock got even 1 full minute into the game. Soon after that hot start though, the two teams got locked into a defensive struggle as Donta Hall and crew swatted everything under the basket while the Murray State defense constantly pickpocketed the Tide dribblers.
Back to back three-pointers from Alex Reese broke the Tide’s offensive funk, and they raced out to a 26-18 lead before Morant put a stop to the streak with back-to-back scores of his own. A series of free throws and a breath of air from Avery Johnson, Jr. off the bench sent Alabama to halftime with a commanding 39-29 lead, and feeling quite good about themselves for keeping Morant’s damage minimal.
It didn’t last.
Morant went sky-born from behind the Tide’s defense for a high-flying dunk in the first 12 seconds of the second half, and even got a free throw out of the deal. Tevin Brown hit a three pointer, followed by another layup from Morant— effectively eliminating the nice cushion the Tide had built up so laboriously in the first half. After going back and forth a bit, Murray State took the lead with 10 minutes left in the half. Then freshman point guard Kira Lewis took over.
Lewis got an assist to Galin Smith, then followed that up with a layup and and a three pointer over the next 40 seconds. Reese hit another three after that, and just like that, Alabama was back on top and had only to salt away the game. Morant gave it his best shot, but the Tide, bolstered by John Petty playing well under the rim (???) and decent free throw shooting (?????????) kept the lead all the way to the end.
Ja Morant got an ovation from the Alabama fans after the game— he was that impressive. 38 points, 5 assists, and 9 rebounds. The rest of his team combined only had 34 points.
Freshman Kira Lewis had a spectacular night shooting the ball, winding up with 20 points on 6/13 field goals. He hit 70% of his free throws as well, and was generally the offensive spark that the Tide needed anytime they got in a funk.
John Petty had a solid game as well, despite missing all four of his three point shots. He had 16 points, doing a lot of his damage underneath the basket. The usual three-point specialist finally used his height to his advantage and worked at running the baseline and coming in the backside of plays for a dump-off option. He added 7 rebounds as well.
Nobody else hit double digits, but everyone on the team got in on the action. Alex Reese had 9 points from his well-timed three point shots, and Dazon Ingram got 7 of his 9 points from free throws. Unfortunately, he also led the team with 6 turnovers. At this point in his career, Ingram is quite obviously a big guard who excels at drawing fouls and getting points from free throws, but isn’t much of a shooting or ball-handling threat.
Donta Hall had three blocks early in the game, but really seemed to disappear for much of the game afterwards. He hasn’t seemed to have as much fire in him this year as he had in previous seasons. Hopefully that will change as we move into the season.
Herbert Jones led the team in rebounds and assists, but is still not the scoring threat he needs to become to round out his NBA potential.
All in all, this was a great team win against a very dangerous and previously undefeated Murray State squad with one of the best players in the entire nation in Ja Morant. The offense had some issues with turnovers and outside shooting, but was still effective enough to score 78 points. The defense was rock solid against everyone but Morant, and really held their own against him throughout most of the first half.
This was an encouraging win as the Tide moves to 5-1 to start the season. Here’s to hoping they continue to find their rhythm and figure out how to incorporate and feature Kira Lewis even more on offense.
Buckle up, and Roll Tide!