That was exhausting. Houston rolled into Tuscaloosa and punched the Tide squarely in the mouth, but Alabama showed resiliency and found a way to win yet again.
This one had the feel of a tournament game from the opening tip, as both teams came out playing fast, hard and physical. The crowd was into it as they should have been, with both teams putting on quite the show. Charles Bediako opened the scoring for Alabama with two powerful dunks off of assists from Jahvon Quinerly. Houston’s defense was relentless, leading to 6 Alabama turnovers in the first 12 minutes of action. The Cougars also hit the offensive rebounds hard, but even still the Tide maintained a shallow lead on the back of strong shooting.
The real story of the first half was Juwan Gary. Houston did a decent job of slowing down the Tide attack, but the game plan apparently didn’t include covering Juwan. He dropped in 16 points to go with three rebounds and a block. As usual, much of it was earned with a blue collar effort running the floor. Quinerly dished out five first half assists, but also led the way with three turnovers. The Cougars managed eight first half steals and that singlehandedly kept them in the game. Alabama led 44-41 at the break.
Houston came out and asserted themselves early in the second half, briefly grabbing a 46-45 lead about a minute in. It was short lived as a Quinerly three reclaimed the lead, but a hard fought back-and-forth affair was on. Quinerly’s greatest contribution to the game was likely the foul trouble that he put several of the Cougars in by consistently blowing by anyone who tried to stay in front of him. With ten minutes to play, three of Houston’s starters had four fouls.
The lead changed hands several times, neither team able to pull away. Quinerly started finding some space in the middle of the defense, likely owing to the extreme foul trouble for Houston. He had back to back drives right down the middle of the lane to put the Tide up five with a shade over eight minutes to play.
Nate Oats is undoubtedly going to hammer home the importance of boxing out after this one. To be frank, the number of offensive boards they allowed was downright embarrassing. Houston PF J’wan Roberts carried the Cougars with a ridiculous nine offensive rebounds on the night. Alabama’s defense was fairly solid, but time after time Houston would get second and third shots at the basket. Roberts has unreal instincts on the glass, reminding those of a certain age of one Dennis Rodman.
Those in attendance couldn’t have asked for a better finish. Two clutch threes from Jaden Shackelford had the Tide up two with a minute to play at 81-79. Houston star Marcus Sasser dropped in a three to briefly grab the lead, then JD Davison hammered home a put-back slam to put the Tide up 83-82 with 24 seconds left. Alabama’s defense held up though, resulting in a desperation heave at the basket. There was no offensive rebound this time, and the Tide hung on.
This was an all out 40 minute war between two elite teams, and that is a beautiful thing to see in Tuscaloosa. The offensive rebounding thing will have to get cleaned up, but it’s tough to be too critical of a win over a team as good as Houston.
The gauntlet continues in Memphis on Tuesday night. This team is fun, folks.