If you had told me last year that Alabama would score north of 90 points 5 games in a row, I would have raised an eyebrow. If you had told me that 6 years ago? I’d have laughed and then called the nearest therapist for you.
But long gone are the days of Anthony Grant’s 55-point slugfests and Avery Johnson’s 67-point second-half meltdowns. Now, obviously, the strength of schedule the last 5 games hasn’t been all-world after such a brutal start to the season, but Nate Oats looks to have his team finally starting to figure out this whole “new-age offense” thing.
The Tide struggled to get into any semblance of a rhythm for the first few minutes of the game, falling behind 5-2 early, but a 3-pointer from Jaden Shackelford, fresh off the bench, tied things up, and the Tide never looked back. Not to be outdone, Jaylen Forbes and Beetle Bolden both also came off the bench to hit 3-pointers sending the Tide on a frenetic 16-5 run over the next 4 minutes of game time.
But Alabama basketball is still Alabama basketball, and a mid 1st-half cold spell is basically a decade-long heavenly mandate, and just can’t be avoided. After racing out to 20 points in about 9 minutes, the Tide turned around and took 7 minutes just to get 7 points, allowing the Bulldogs to fight and scrap their way back into the game with some stellar work from senior guard Tyson Carter.
As far as cold streaks go, though, this one wound up only being only as frosty as an Alabama winter. John Petty and Beetle Bolden drained back-to-back threes in 26 seconds, and Alex Reese capped off a 9-point run with a bounding left-handed dunk. Kira Lewis got a couple of knifing lay-ups to take the Tide to halftime with 42 points.
Remember all those games under Anthony Grant when 42 points was more like what the score was 12 minutes in to the second half?
Unlike those Grant and Johnson teams, though, Alabama showed 0 signs of even considering a second half collapse. They did have a couple of streaks in the early part of the half where they didn’t score for a few possessions, but they also managed to keep the Bulldogs from scoring during those times as well.
Ultimately, the second half was the John Petty show, as he pulled off a couple of absolutely lethal step-back three point shots on his way to 11 second half points, while Herb Jones was all over the court nabbing rebounds, dunks, putbacks, and just causing general havoc for Mississippi State. The Tide inexorably extended their already comfortable lead throughout the entire half, draining away the soul of the Bulldogs with each desecrated corpse that Petty left in his wake of step-backs and cross-overs.
The Tide got to empty the bench for their ever-exuberant crew of walk-ons for the last few minutes of the game and still managed to hit 90 points for a 21-point victory.
John Petty led the team with 18 points and a team-high 23.0 efficiency rating. He hit a ridiculous 57% of his 7 three point attempts, and added 6 rebounds and 3 assists on the night. He showed extremely judicious shot selection and downright impressive passing all night long, and Alabama will be very, very tough to beat if Petty plays this well every game.
Kira Lewis was right on his heels with 17 points and a 22.0 efficiency. He led the team with 4 assists, and, surprisingly, led the team with 8 rebounds as well.
Galin Smith had one of his best offensive games of his career with 11 points, and Bolden and Shackelford both also broke in to double digit scoring.
Alabama shot 50% for the entire night, and 42% from three point range. You shoot that well, especially with 57 total attempts, and you’re going to win college basketball games. The two teams came into this game diametrically opposed, philosophy-wise. While Alabama is determined to play fast and shoot threes, Mississippi State wanted to slow the game down, work the ball into the post, and win with their superior big men. Which might have worked, except their big men didn’t wind up being superior. Alabama out-rebounded them 42-38, and Alex Reese blocked three shots, with three more coming from Bolden, Smith, and Javian Davis, all while matching the Bulldogs’ 36 points in the paint with 34 of their own.
Like the game of baseball moving towards aiming for homeruns on the back of statistical analytics, basketball too has been moving towards emphasizing 3-point shots for maximizing scoring efficiency. The premise is simple: unless you have a path for easy, high-percentage shots under the basket, a 3-point shot is nearly as likely to go in as any 2-point jumper, and worth 50% more.
My favorite thing about Nate Oats is how quickly he’s gotten his team to embrace that. Looking at the shot chart, all but 3 of their 57 total shots were either in the paint or around the 3-point arc. While Miss State’s shot chart was spread out all over the inside of the arc (most of which were misses, I might add), Alabama’s were totally condensed. That is the mark of a team working within the constraints of a very precise coaching philosophy focused on maximizing their scoring potential, and not just free lancing for shots as soon as they had a little space and felt like lobbing one at the basket.
It was a very encouraging win for the Crimson Tide against a Bulldogs’ team that might well turn out to be overrated by the end of the season. Still, though, it was impressive to see them limit their turnovers and show a consistent and a deadly offensive scheme all game long, with only two relatively small cold streaks in the match.
Kentucky will, of course, be a much taller task, but for now, getting that first SEC win has to be sweet for Coach Oats.