The schizophrenic Alabama basketball team showed their best side on Saturday night, totally dominating 15th-ranked Tennessee by a score of 78-50. The win was the Tide’s fifth straight win over a ranked opponent.
‘Bama is now 5-1 against ranked teams and 11-8 versus non ranked teams this year. The one loss was against 14th-ranked Minnesota, where the Tide played the last 11 minutes with only three players (and still lost by only five points.) Tennessee never led in the game, and the game was tied for only 41 seconds after the tip.
‘Bama came out hot, with Collin Sexton and Donta Hall leading the way early. When John Petty hit his first three-point attempt, it was a good sign that the Tide would have a good night. Alabama went into a little drought when Sexton, Petty and Dazon Ingram all were out of the game for a rest. However, when they were inserted back in the lineup, the Tide closed the half strong and held 37-27 lead at the break. Sexton and Hall both had 10 points and Petty had nine in the first stanza. ‘Bama shot 55% (16-29) and held the Vols to 31% (9-29) in the half.
The Tide came out in the second half, and then quickly put the game away. Two dunks by Hall, and a couple of “oh my God, what did I just see” plays by Sexton electrified the capacity crowd and stretched the lead out. Hall had eight field goals on the night, all by dunk. Sexton continued to wow people with his speed, agility, and body control. When he made a mistake by having the ball stolen in the back court, he chased the play down, got the rebound on the miss, and sprinted the length of the court for circus finger roll at the other end.
Petty hit a three at the 15-minute mark for a 50-34 lead, and at that point it was just a matter of how bad the Tide would whip the Vols. With the score 72-44, coach Avery Johnson called off the dogs, bringing Sexton, Petty, Ingram, and Key off the floor. Hall had already retired for the night. With fan favorite and late game crowd pleaser Lawson Schaffer missing the game with flu, the students instead chanted for extremely seldom-used Tyler Barnes to be inserted. With just over two minutes remaining, they got their wish. Barnes’ teammates did their best to get him on the scoreboard. Avery Johnson, Jr. fed him near the basket and he was fouled on his shot. Barnes, a walk on from Louisville, Kentucky, missed both free throws.
Hall led the way with his fifth career double-double, posting 17 points and 11 rebounds, while adding three blocked shots. Sexton tossed in 16 points and had five rebounds and five assists. Petty added 14 points on an efficient 4-7 shooting night, with 3-of-4 from three point range. Key had another solid all-around game with an eight-point, four-rebound night, while Herbert Jones added seven points and two boards. Ingram rebounded somewhat from his terrible night in Starkville with six points and four rebounds. Daniel Giddens helped on the boards with six rebounds and had two points in 14 foul-plagued minutes. Petty and Hall led the team in minutes with 27 each. Ingram played 25 minutes, and Key and Sexton logged 24 minutes.
As a team the Tide shot 32-56 for 57% including 5-14 (36%) from deep. The foul shooting problem returned with a 9-18 night. ‘Bama won the battle of the boards 40-35 and outscored UT 12-0 on fast break points. The Tide dominated the paint by a 50-18 margin. For all the hype about the Vols’ defense, it was Avery Johnson’s group that played the suffocating defense, holding one of the nation’s most efficient teams to just 27% shooting (16-58), 4-17 (23%) from three-point range. After having only three assists in the loss to MSU on Tuesday, the Tide dished out 16 Saturday, with a ton of nifty passing. Eleven turnovers is a good number for ‘Bama, as were the seven blocks and eight steals they recorded.
The win was the largest margin of victory over a top 25 team for Alabama since January of 2005, when the 22nd ranked Tide ran over the 17th ranked Bulldogs of Mississippi State by a score of 98-49. The 28-point margin of victory set a record versus Top 15 opponents.
Games like Saturday’s show just how good the Tide can be. As frustrating as they can be at times, when they are good, they are REALLY, REALLY, good. Playing fast and hitting shots are definitely the keys for success for this group. Sexton is the engine that makes the team go, but when he is receiving help, the team is a totally different animal, capable of playing with any team in the country.
The Tide takes the court again on Tuesday night when Alabama hosts LSU at 8 p.m. CST in Coleman (SEC Network.) ‘Bama is 7-3 over their last 10 games and need to continue to win to position themselves for the NCAA Tournament. After LSU the remaining games are: at Kentucky, at Auburn, Arkansas at home, Florida at home, and a regular season road finale against desperate Texas A&M. That’s followed up immediatetely by the SEC Tournament in St Louis. Win two of those and the team is in, any more than that they may get a surprising seed. Though, the consensus from the talking heads on Saturday night is that ‘Bama is very dangerous team that is likely to be underseeded.
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Buckle Up for the ride: it has been bumpy at times, but, good gosh, it’s been fun.