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Alabama Basketball opens its season by soundly beating the ‘Cocks

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The Crimson Tide won 81-57 on opening night on Wednesday

Arizona State v Buffalo Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

New Faces

Nate Oats’ second Crimson Tide team took to the court Wednesday night after an eight-and-a-half month hiatus brought on by the novel coronavirus.

‘Bama last played on March 7th. And the long layoff and new starters showed, despite thumping Jacksonville State 81-57. The new-look Tide squad featured eight new players — ones either from missing last season for injury, transfer, or being in high school, junior college, or the Ivy League last year.

By far the most impressive of the new eight was Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly, who was playing his first game in 22 months on his 22nd birthday. Quinerly is tasked with replacing All-SEC point guard, and the 13th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, Kira Lewis. Quinerly acquitted himself well, scoring 18 points in 26 minutes of action. Quinerly was joined in the starting lineup by seniors John Petty and Herbert Jones, Yale graduate transfer Jordan Bruner, and sophomore Jaden Shackelford.

Tide turns in low-energy first half

The Tide started slowly, but seemed to get a nice boost off the bench when James Rojas came in for Bruner and quickly made his presence felt. Rojas was active on both ends of the court, and it was clear that the knee injury that cost him last season also hurt the 2019-2020 Crimson Tide.

Quinerly was racing up and down the floor reached double figures with 11 points with 4:15 left in the first half. But, the Tide was plagued all night by missed layups and point blank shots at the rim. Late in the half, Rojas knocked down a three-point shot and the Tide led 36-24 at the break. For the first 20 minutes of play, ‘Bama shot 14-33 for 42%, including 4-14 (28%) in the first half from deep, and only made 4-9 free throws. The Gamecocks were worse, 8-37 for 21%. 3-16 from deep for 18%. But, in a scene all-too familiar in Coleman Coliseum, the visiting ‘Cocks were good at the line, hitting all 5 of their FTA.

The most distressing aspect for Nate Oats, however, had to be that an enigmatic JSU squad with Georgia and UNC transfers was easily handling their business on the glass, leading the Tide in the rebounding battle during the first 20 minutes.

Second half ‘Bama finds another gear

After halftime, the Tide came out with much better energy and surged out to an 18-point lead with 11 left in the half. ‘Bama would stretch it out at times only to see the Gamecocks put together a five- to seven-point rallies to stay with in striking distance. The Tide eventually used their length, talent and athleticism to defensively control the game for the last ten minutes of play.

Though the Crimson Tide played better team basketball in the second half, Alabama actually shot worse, except at the free throw line. In the final 20, Alabama would go 16-44 for 36%, 3-17 from deep, and 10-11 at the charity stripe. JSU improved on its woeful first half shooting from the field, posting 11-32, 6-16 from three, and did lose some gimmes at the stripe where it fell to 5-12 at the free throw line.

For the game the Tide shot only 39% (30-77) and went an abysmal 22% from downtown (7-31). Getting to the bucket and converting at the stripe paid off, as the Tie went 14-20 for 70% at the free throw line. Jacksonville State was simply not a good shooting team, but they were harassed all night by longer Tide defenders. JSU finished 19-69 for 27%, 9-32 from deep for 28%, and 10-17 for 59% at the free throw line.

And, importantly, the Tide’s better second half effort showed up on the glass, where UA finished with 55 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 turnovers, three blocks,and eight steals. JSU had 49 rebounds. 10 assists, 20 turnovers, two blocks, and five steals. The Alabama defense was relentless much of the night, and in the final frame crashed the boards.

Deep team looking for a rotation

Oats divided the minutes up judiciously, and all 12 scholarship players saw action. Shackelford, Quinerly, and Petty all logged 26 minutes, with Jones right behind at 25. Rojas was on the court for 21 minutes, followed by Keon Ellis with 18, Joshua Primo with 17, Bruner with 15 and Alex Reese with 13.

Quinerly and Shackelford led the way with 18 points each, and Shack notched his first career double-double with 11 boards. Petty started slowly, but came on fast to finish with 14 points and six rebounds.

Herb, the team’s glue, had a double-double of his own with 12 points and 12 rebounds. The senior from Greensboro also had two blocks, a steal, drew two charges, and at one point helped the managers mop up to floor. No reports of him selling popcorn, however. Rojas finished with eight points and seven rebounds and Primo had five points in his first game.

When asked his thoughts after the game Oats quickly brought up the team’s defense, and the fact that it was “much better than last year.” That stems partly from the depth, length, and athletic ability of this year’s squad. Oats went on to say that “Herb won the hard hat award, again, tallying 35 points hard hat points out of a team record 151 12 points. Things like taking a charge and diving on the floor earn players points for the award.”

Final thoughts

Overall, it was a good win against an overmatched opponent to start the season keyed by team basketball and great defense. The Tide showed rust, didn't shoot well, and still won by 24 points. Bruner and Reese were ice cold from three-point range, and they are two of the better deep threat guys on the roster. Bruner has battled a knee injury and he was favoring his injured limb throughout the game. Rojas is coming back from knee surgery of his own, but seemed more game-ready than Bruner, and it will interesting to see if their roles are reversed at some point.

The Tide next travels to Asheville, NC for the Maui Classic (2020, amirite?), where they will play Stanford on Monday at 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2. They will then play either UNC or UNLV on Tuesday, and a team to be determined on Wednesday. That’s three quality games in a three-day period. Hopefully there will be limited interruptions this season as the Tide looks to have a squad that can make some noise this season.

Roll Tide

#BallAndOats

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