In what’s been a pretty rare occurrence in the Avery Johnson era, Alabama actually jumped out to a lead midway through the first half and held it steady for the entire game without any real scares. They played consistently and well enough to keep the lead. An exciting development for the up-and-down streaky teams we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years.
The Tigers started hot, hitting a couple of three pointers in the opening minutes, but Alabama scored enough to stay with them, and the teams traded the lead back and forth for the first 9 minutes of the game. Then Missouri got caught in a 6 minute drought while Alex Reese came into the game for Alabama and scored 5 straight points with a three pointer, then following it up with a missed three pointer but dunking his own rebound. Not bad.
Alabama scored 11 points while the Tigers were floundering, racing out to a 10 point lead that they never relinquished. A couple of three pointers at the end of the half cut the lead, but the Tide went into the locker room up 32-26.
The second half saw the Tide rattle off 7 straight points, then turn around and give up 9 in row before Kira Lewis slipped in between a bunch of guys much bigger than him and still get a basket, then followed it up with a nice dish out to Dazon Ingram for an assist. After that, the unlikely Avery Johnson, Jr. took over the game for a little while, and seemed to have the magic touch of angels making sure he didn’t miss a single shot, no matter how weird.
It was enough, and Alabama salted away the victory by making (!) most of their free throws and never letting the game get to under a three-possession difference.
Avery Jr. was the big story of the night, as he came off the bench after averaging 1 point per game this season to lead the team with 14 points tonight. He made a couple of three pointers and, as mentioned above, contorted around in the lane to make some pretty circus-y layups and banking in a jump shot while flying sideways.
However, Donta Hall was the real force behind the team. He added yet another double-double to his career with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and had a couple of blocks. He was a monster underneath the basket, but did most of his damage in a more traditional center way than his usual multitude of dunks. He worked off the dribble and backed into his defenders before turning and dropping a hook shot into the basket. It was the kind of development to his game that I’m sure some NBA scouts will be pleased to see.
Kira Lewis and Dazon Ingram both had 9 points, followed by Alex Reese at 7. All in all, the Tide really spread the points out between all ten players as most of the bench played nearly as much as the starters. Most encouragingly, the Tide hit 12/15 (80%) of their free throws while ratcheting up what’s been a leaky defense to hold a volume-three shooting Missouri offense to only 60 points.
The Tide outrebounded Missouri 37-29, shot an outstanding 47% from the floor, hit 80% of their free throws, had less fouls, and had less turnovers than their opponent. It’s hard to lose a game when you play that solidly across all phases of the game.
Were it not for a couple of crazy shots, this team would be 13 and 3 and very likely ranked in the top 25 right now. Despite all of my (our) complaining about Avery messing with lineups and substituting too much to let guys get in rhythms, they’re still doing very, very well and are looking more and more consistent each week.
They still have some work to do to get any of the other big men to be able to effectively relieve Donta Hall at center, and also figure out who the primary point guard should be (hint: Kira Lewis). But for the most part, you can see the team starting to gel, and that makes them dangerous.
Buckle up, and Roll Tide!