On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide basketball team grabbed an important victory over LSU by a score of 88-82. The Athletic Department honored the first African-American athlete in Alabama history and perhaps the most important, Wendell Hudson, at halftime. The Tide’s most important player, Herbert Jones, was back in the starting lineup less than two weeks after breaking his left (dominant) wrist and undergoing surgery to repair it. Jones is valuable in so many ways to the team, most importantly on the defensive end and the back boards. Literally using only his right hand the junior grabbed 17 rebounds (five offensive), scored six points, dished out three assists, blocked two shots, made a steal, and caused havoc all over the floor.
The Tide had a 1-3 record with Jones out, and a couple of early season losses were a direct result of his elbow injury that happened in the first few minutes of the season opener, a one point loss to Penn. Jones, who is a poor free throw shooter at best, even canned two very important freebies with 1:35 left to put the Tide up 79-75. Jones used only his right (non dominant) hand and calmly knocked down both shots.
The game started off slowly for both teams, with the Tide choosing to play at a slower pace than their norm. With 12:20 left in the half the score was tied at 10-10. At the under four time out the game was tied at 25 each, but Bama did something they haven't had much success with this season by closing the half strong, taking a 40-29 lead into the break.
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half. The Tide was 12-31 for 38%, including 6-19 (31%) from deep and 10-13 from the free throw line. LSU was only 10-33 for 30%, including 4-10 from three point range, and 5-7 from the free throw line.
Kira Lewis, John Petty, and Jaden Shackelford all came out early in the second half and hit three point baskets as the Tide built a big lead. With 15:34 left, LSU was forced to call a time out with Bama sporting a 53-37 lead. The Tide then got offensive help from a surprising source, much maligned center Galin Smith, who had two forceful dunks in a one minute span.
LSU made a run, cutting the margin to 59-50 with 11:39 left. Lewis hit back to back threes to push the lead to 65-50 with 10:35 left. The lead was 70-56 with 7:14 left on the clock, and at 73-59 with just over five minutes remaining. The Tigers then systematically pushed their way back into the game. Lewis spent around three minutes on the bench after drawing his fourth foul, and the lead shrunk.
With 3:05 left and the lead down to 75-70, Smith was fouled and hit both ends of the one and one (!!!), for a 77-70 lead. With just 1:32 left the lead was only 79-78 and things looked bleak, but Shackelford stepped up and nailed a long three for a four point cushion. LSU wouldn't quit and cut the score to 82-80 with 1:09 on the clock. Smith worked hard down low, grabbed an offensive rebound, and shot a pass to Alex Reese at the top of the key. Reese just got the shot off before the 30 second clock expired, and hit nothing but net for the 85-80 lead with 40 seconds left. Shackelford got a breakaway layup to put things out of reach with 11 seconds left and provide the final 88-82 margin.
Lewis had an outstanding game, scoring 27 points with four assists, three steals, and for the second straight game, only one turnover. Shackelford continued his outstanding freshman season with 26 points on 9-18 shooting and 5-13 from deep. Smith was definitely an unsung hero, scoring in double figures with 10 points, for only the second time in his career. Smith also had six rebounds, with four huge boards on the offensive end. Petty was held to eight points, but added five rebounds and four assists. Reese added eight points and five rebounds of his own. However, by far the most important player was Jones with blue collar performance with, literally, one hand.
The Tide picked it up in the second half, shooting 16-35 for 46%, 7-16 from deep for 44%, and 9-13 (69%) from the free throw line. LSU shot much better, mostly a function of getting the ball in Skylar Mays hands more, at 19-34 for 56%, 7-17 from three for 41%, and 8-10 from the free throw line. Overall, Bama finished 28-66 for 42%, 13-35 from three for 37%, and 19-26 for 73% from the line. After getting destroyed on the boards in Baton Rouge, the Tide grabbed 42 rebounds today, dished out 15 assists, had four blocks, six steals, and only had nine turnovers. LSU barely won the rebounding battle with 44, had 11 assists, four blocks, nine steals, and 12 turnovers. Mays led the way with 24 points and nine rebounds, the state of Alabama’s number one high school player from 2019, Trendon Watford, added 18 points and four rebounds.
What a huge win for the Tide, keeping the faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive. This win doesn't put them in, but a loss would very likely ended any chance of making the Big Dance. You just can't say enough about the resilience of this team. They play hard if not always smart, and never give up. With an injury ravaged squad, Coach Nate Oats is getting all he can out of the players available. Real fans, and knowledgeable basketball people can see what Oats is building, and know that in the future the Crimson Tide can be a force to be reckoned with.
Now Bama needs to build on today, and put wins back to back. Texas A&M (12-12) comes to town on Wednesday in another important contest for the Tide. The game will be at 6 p.m. and will be shown on the SEC Network.
#BallAndOats follow @rogerpatmyers on Twitter for live updates