The shorthanded Alabama Crimson Tide staged a comeback to defeat a big, strong, Louisiana-Lafayette team by a score of 73-68 on Sunday afternoon in a charity exhibition game. Bama was playing with eight scholarship players, as James Rojas and Nimari Burnett are both recovering from knee surgery, Alex Tchikou is still unavailable after achilles surgery, and Jahvon Quinerly and Juwan Gary were both suspended for the contest. The regular season opens on November 9th and coach Nate Oats says that Quinerly, Gary, and Tchikou should all be back. Rojas is two to three months away from being ready and Burnett has been ruled out for the season.
Louisiana is a physical team that finished last season with a 17-9 record. The Cajuns played tough defense on the Tide and held a lead of 16-7 with nine minutes left in the half. Bama heated up over the last part of the half to finish at 31 percent from the field (11-35) with only 2-16 from three point range. With some spirited play from Noah Gurley and Keon Ellis, the Tide was able to close strong and only trail 33-32 at the half. Gurley had 11 points at the break. The Cajuns shot 12-25 from the field in the first half with 5-10 from deep.
The Tide again started Ellis, Gurley, JD Davison, Jaden Shackelford, and Charles Bediako in the second half. ULL pushed out to a seven point lead before Ellis hit his third three pointer of the game for a 41-37 lead with 16:44 left. Ellis was fouled on a three point attempt with 11:20 left and hit all three freebies to give the Tide a 52-51 lead. Shackelford finally made a shot- a three- to give Bama a 55-54 lead with 9:16 remaining, and the Tide never relinquished the lead. The Cajuns did make things interesting down the stretch. Trailing 67-57 after a Darius Miles follow up jam, ULL made a three point shot and the shooter was fouled by Miles. Kobe Julien sank the free throw and the lead was suddenly down to six with 3:40 left in the game.
Gurley fouled out with a little over two minutes left. Lafayette got an old fashioned three point play to cut the margin to 67-61 with one minute left. Davison drove hard to the hole and hit an off balance shot for a 69-66 lead with 25 seconds left. The Cajuns would not quit and got a thunderous dunk to make it a 69-68 game with 15 seconds to play. Davison was fouled and calmly made both free throws. When ULL missed a potential game tying three point shot, Davison rebounded, was fouled, and made both shots again to make the final score 73-68 in favor of the Tide.
The Tide improved to 9-25 for 36% in the second half, and 4-14 from deep, but hit 19-23 free throws. For the game the team finished 20-60 from the floor for 33%, a miserable 6-30 from three for 20% and a strong 27-33 for 82% from the free throw line. ULL was 12-35 in the second from the field, including 3-15 from deep and was 8-13 from the line. For the game the Cajuns finished 24-60 for 40%, 8-25 from deep for 32% and 12-21 from the free throw line. Alabama had 44 rebounds, 10 assists, 16 steals. six blocks and 22 turnovers. Lafayette had 42 rebounds. 10 assists, 13 steals, two blocks, and 25 turnovers.
Ellis led the way with 21 points on 5-10 three pointers and 6-6 from the free throw line. He added four rebounds, three assists, and four steals. Davison knocked in 19 points and had three rebounds, three assists, and three steals but turned it over seven times. Gurley finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Shackelford tied Bediako with seven rebounds to lead the team, but shot only 1-14 from the field and had five turnovers. Ellis, Davison, and Shackelford all played between 37-39 minutes in the game.
It was good to see the shorthanded Tide gut out a win, but they definitely missed Quinerly and his ball handling and outside shooting, and the instant energy that Gary brings anytime he is on the court. Ellis looked to be the clear leader of the group today and plays tough and smart. The senior from Florida looks to take on the Herbert Jones role of defensive stopper and appears ready to do so. Davison is electric but needs to continue to work on his outside shot. The freshman phenom can get to the rack with the best of them, reminiscent of Collin Sexton. Bediako improved as the game wore on and does look like the rim protector that coach Oats says he is. The big Canadian blocked three shots to go with his seven boards.
The regular season starts on November 9th when the Tide welcome Louisiana Tech to Coleman for game number one. Bama will need the extra bodies to play the style that Oats insists on. The touch defense and fast paced up and down style takes a toll on the players so they definitely need as many guys available as possible.
The season should be fun! Get ready for #BallAndOats