With the Bahamas now in the rearview mirror for the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-4), Nate Oats squad returns to the Capstone for yet another match-up with a strong small conference opponent: the 7-1 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. The ‘Jacks have been a hell of a program under head coach Kyle Keller, having gone to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six seasons. If you don’t believe me, ask Duke. Stephen F. Austin went on the road to Cameron Indoor a few weeks ago and stunned the Blue Devils 85-83.
So, yeah, another tough test for the Tide in Year 1 for Oats. Alabama did beat this team a year ago at their place, 79-69, as Donta Hall and the Tide’s bigs dominated the paint area all night. But, the Lumberjacks have been significantly better thus far this season. As Keller’s squad also plays at one of the fastest paces in the country, it’s going to be a track-meet in Coleman Coliseum Friday night.
Can the Tide do what Duke couldn’t?
POINT 5’11 John Comeaux (7.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.8 RPG, 2.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Roti Ware (6.0 PPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG)
GUARD 6’6 Kevon Harris (19.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 SPG)
WING 6’6 Nathan Bain (4.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.1 SPG)
POST 6’7 Gavin Kensmil (13.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
The Lumberjacks lost three starters from last year’s team, with Harris and Bain returning this season. Harris is the go-to scorer on offense (49.1%/38.9%/77.8%), capable of scoring all over the court and creating anytime he has the ball. Comeaux (45.2%/36.4%/90.9%) and Bain (54.2%/50.0%/71.4%) are both more than capable as scorers themselves, but Bain is only averaging about 15 MPG this season and Comeaux is more effective as a distributor of the basketball (24.0% AST%). Kensmil has been the biggest difference-maker for this team though. The JUCO transfer has added some much need size on the interior for the Lumberjacks, as his 18.3% REB% leads the team by a significant margin.
GUARD 6’4 Cameron Johnson (12.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.9 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 Oddyest Walker (4.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.9 SPG)
GUARD 6’1 David Kachelries (4.8 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.3 RPG)
WING 6’7 Sama’zha Hart (7.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
POST 6’7 Calvin Soloman (3.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 SPG)
As mentioned, Stephen F. Austin plays at a lightning fast pace, so having an entire rotation’s worth of a bench comes in handy for the Lumberjacks. Johnson is another legitimate scorer (59.4%/50.0%/73.7%), and the ‘Jacks clearly learned their lesson from last year when they lacked size in the post, as they went out and brought in a pair of freshman front-court players in Hart and Soloman, both of which have made an impact in the paint.
Three Keys to Victory
- Take Care of the Basketball. This could be the answer for all three keys to this game, to be honest. Stephen F. Austin gets after the opponent on defense. That’s their M.O. They want to press, turn you over, and get off and running for easy transition baskets the other way. In case you haven’t watched the Tide this season, all they do is turn the ball over. The Lumberjacks have forced 208 turnovers in 8 games this season, the most in all of college basketball. Alabama turns the ball over about 17 times a game. If Oats remains adamant about running his offense as fast as he normally does, ball security is going to determine this game.
- Free Throw Shooting. The ‘Jacks play as many guys as they do, not just because they are constantly pressuring and running up-and-down the court, but also because they aren’t shy about fouling. They are extremely aggressive, which is why nearly all of them are averaging at least a steal per game. The way to make them pay for this aggressiveness, of course, is by going to the free throw line and earning points the easy way.
- Stymie Dribble Penetration. Most teams that get up and down the court typically like to let it fly from down-town. When you are forcing the opponent to play on their heels all game, it gets really tiring trying to rotate effectively and challenge shooters on the perimeter. Keller’s team does the opposite of that, however. They want to attack the basket relentlessly. Their way of thinking is that, if the defense is on their heels the whole game, it’s best just to go right through them and take it to the rim. The Lumberjacks are 23rd in the country in 2PAs and 32nd in the country in 2P% at 56.4%. It’s a successful strategy in its own right, and with Alabama being as thin as they are, the ‘Jacks are going to be in attack mode all night. It’s up to Alabama’s guards to prevent the initial penetration from happening.
Tonight’s game provides yet another valuable opportunity to improve as a team and pick up a solid non-conference win in the process. Stephen F. Austin presents a unique style that closely mirrors what Oats is trying to build in Tuscaloosa. The Tide have the ability to win this game going away, but, as Duke found out, it certainly won’t be easy against this proud program.
The game tips at 7:00 PM CST and can be streamed on the ESPN app or SEC Network+.