After the loss of so many half-court grinders, half-court creators, and blue collar scrappers, one of the big questions entering the season was how a new-look Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball team would fare if the perimeter shots weren’t falling.
Friday night, the Tide got to answer that question with one word: Unsteady…at first
‘Bama’s opponent, the defending Summit League champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits proved a far more formidable test than did the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. The most veteran team in the nation looked every bit the part, knocking down open looks, hustling on both ends, and killing the Tide with dribble-drive penetration. But where SDSU was the most impressive was in cutting off Alabama’s transition game. The Jacks were falling back into the half-court almost as soon as a shot was released, denying the Tide run-n-gun gimmes, easy looks from the perimeter, and monstrous runs we’ve come to expect under Nate Oats.
Instead, ‘Bama had to rely upon a half-court game, make extra passes, use the post, lean on bigs, drive the lane – work for their points, in short. And SDSU did not make that easy with some good defensive rebounding and aggressive man-defense. Making the Tide’s job more difficult was the loss of Juwan Gary on a non-contact play, where he came down funny and immediately went to the locker room, unable to place any weight on his ankle.
The moment was not too large for SDSU, though the talent advantage was. ‘Bama went into the locker room up by just 3 points, 41-38, after falling behind by as many as 5 late in the half.
The second half was a very different story, however, as a different Alabama team exited the locker room. It was one intent on crashing the glass, working the two-man give-and-go-game, making the extra pass, and especially one that challenged shots in the paint.
At one stretch, midway through the second half, with Alabama looking sluggish and after SDSU’s Mayo knocked down 9 quick points to cut it to 8, Alabama’s defense came to life – three straight blocks in the paint keyed an unreal sequence that saw JD Davison school his defender with a Eurostep; a behind-the-back pass culminate in a big three from the corner; and a pick-and-roll to Charles Bediako on a touch-pass alley oop.
That was, for all practical purposes, the end of what had been a competitive game. Alabama went up by as many as 17, and though the Jacks never stopped scrapping and competing, at one point cutting it to 10, ‘Bama was never in serious danger after its second possession of the half.
One thing is certain – as deep and talented as this team is, every night is going to feature a different player who’s the best on the floor. Jaden Shackelford had 19; Jelly had 26, and they still weren’t the most active players on the floor — Darius Miles was everywhere; Ellis had the world’s quietest 13 rebounds, and angry Chuck Bediako was an absolute difference-maker.
We’ll have a more detailed breakdown coming for you later, including complete stats and analysis. But for now, celebrate the W: This was the second straight victory over a likely Tourney team to start ‘Bama’s obscenely-tough nonconference schedule.
No. 13 Alabama Crimson Tide — 104
South Dakota State Jackrabbits — 88