For the third straight year coach Avery Johnson took his team on the road for a “home” game in Huntsville, and for the third straight year the Tide won. This year by a score of 84-75 over a good Liberty team. Liberty beat Georgia State by 28 earlier this season, and Georgia State upset the Tide in Tuscaloosa earlier this month. The Von Braun Center holds 6,500 for basketball and there were noticeable patches of empty seats at the game.
Like most good mid-major teams, Liberty is not real big but shoot well and play great team basketball. Their three man weave is a thing of beauty. Johnson used a starting five of Donta Hall, Kira Lewis, John Petty, Herbert Jones, and Tevin Mack. However the Tide played 10 men in the first half, sometimes with some seemingly strange combinations.
Bama shot out to a decent lead, but Liberty was able to cut into the margin and trailed 34-33 at the half. Hall and Lewis were the first half leaders with eight points each. At the break the Tide was 11-24 (46%) from the field and 2-7 (29%) from the three point line, but only 10-18 (55%) from the free throw line. Liberty was 12-30 (40%) and 5-11 from deep (46%) and made 4 of 7 free throws. The Flames led in rebounds at the half 19-18, and the Tide had eight turnovers, five assists, two blocks, and five steals in the first 20 minutes.
The Tide came out and played fast to begin the second half, and the fast Tide is the best Tide. With the athletic nature of the team they need to use that strategy more often, especially when they hold a size, strength, and speed advantage like they did Tuesday night. Lewis carried the team for a spurt, and then Hall added some open dunks, and follow ups to build a comfortable lead. Petty chipped in with a couple of three point shots in a row to keep the Tide rolling. Liberty wouldn't give up and starting connecting from the three point line to stay within range.
With 13 minutes left and the Tide leading by five, Lewis and Hall both went to the bench, leaving the Tide with a lineup of Dazon Ingram, Avery Johnson Jr, Riley Norris ,Alex Reese, and Jones, not exactly a scoring juggernaut. With under 10 minutes Lewis and Hall returned and were able to help the Tide stretch the lead out. Norris, playing in only his second game of the year, saw three minutes of action in the first half, but 12 in the second. The fifth year senior was the consummate glue guy, doing the dirty work of diving on the floor for loose balls and drawing charges. Norris only scored one point and grabbed four rebounds but his presence on the court was a big reason the Tide won the game.
The Tide heated up to 15-26 (58%) from the field in the second half, including 5-10 from deep and 15-21 (74%) from the free throw line. Liberty improved to 13-27 for 48% and 6-12 from deep. For the game, the Tide shot a very good 52% on 26-50, including 7-17 from deep (41%) and 25-39 from the free throw line. The amount of free throws was outstanding to see, but the 64% make rate is problematic. For the first time all season the Tide lost the battle of the boards, albeit only by a margin of 33-32. However, the Flames were considerably smaller than the Tide. Bama finished with 11 turnovers, with only three committed in the second half, and had six blocks, eight steals, and 11 assists.
Hall took advantage of the size and athletic advantage to score a career high 21 points and 6-6 shooting from the field and 9-11 from the free throw line, also grabbing five rebounds and four blocked shots. Lewis scored 17 on 7-12 shooting and led the team with four assists. In a return to his hometown, Petty found his shooting touch and had 16 points, making 3 of 7 three point shots. Jones finally was able to get the ball to find the bottom of the net and added eight points. Reese added seven points with three rebounds and two steals. Lewis, Petty, and Hall all played 30 plus minutes in the contest. After seemingly shortening the rotation some in the last few games, Johnson returned to playing 10 players in the game. Former starter Galin Smith was only on the floor for six minutes, while Johnson Jr. had 12 minutes of playing time, with 10 of those being in the first half.
The Tide returns to Tuscaloosa for an actual home game Friday, when they host Penn State at 8 p.m in a game that will be shown on the SEC Network. A trip to Nacogdoches, Texas to play a good Stephen F Austin team follows, before SEC play begins on January 5th.
Hopefully, the team can get on a roll, and grab a couple of more wins to finish out the pre conference portion of the schedule.
Roll Tide, Buckle Up
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