First of all, what a game! We as fans were treated to March basketball in December on Saturday night. The 9th ranked Crimson Tide and the 14th ranked Houston Cougars went blow for blow in a game that wasn't decided until the final second had ticked off the clock. The Cougars, fresh off a final four appearance last year are a veteran, physical, well coached team that gave Nate Oats’ bunch all they could handle. Bama won the slugfest by a score of 83-82 when Houston could not score on the game’s last possession. The Tide improved to 8-1 while the Cougars fell to 8-2.
Oats continued with the starting quintet of Juwan Gray, Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis, and Charles Bediako. The 7’0” freshman started the game off hot with a couple of emphatic dunks off of passes from Quinerly. Gary was his usual ball of energy and was making plays all over the court, having a career high of 16 points by halftime. Every time the Tide would try and get some breathing room the Cougars would battle their way back. With a 37-30 lead with 3:56 left in the half the Tide looked to distance themselves, but Houston went on a 7-0 run. With a little back and forth and some stellar free throw shooting Bama took a tenuous 44-41 lead into the locker room. The Tide was outshooting the Cougars 57% to 42% at the break, but with their offensive rebounding advantage Houston took 17 more shots than the Tide. Bama hitting 17-20 free throws was a welcome, and surprising, development given their recent performances at the stripe.
The second half was more of the same, back and forth like two prize fighters slugging it out. The Tide went on a 7-0 run with 8:17 left to forge at 68-63 lead. Quinerly got his drive and score game going, helped by some major Houston foul trouble, to help Bama take the lead. Houston kept on punching and took a 75-73 lead of their own with 4:28 left. At that point Shackelford hit two straight three point attempts, and the Tide led 81-79 with 2:34 remaining. With a chance for a four point lead with 1:18 left Gary missed at the rim and was called for offensive goal tending when he followed up. Houston hit a contested three pointer with under one minute remaining to take an 82-81 lead.
On a missed shot by Quinerly, mercurial freshman JD Davison came flying in from the top of the key to slam the miss home to give the Tide the 83-82 lead. Houston had 24 seconds to try for one last basket. Shackelford locked up Houston star Marcus Sasser, knocking the ball away with about four seconds left on the clock. The Cougars retrieved the ball and tried a long shot to beat the clock. The shot was close, and tipped twice by Houston. Davison swatted the second attempt away to run the clock out. From there, chaos ensued.
Houston coach Kevin Sampson wanted a review for a possible goal tend and chased down the referees, even grabbing one from behind and spinning him around. The Cougar players were not happy and a couple chased down the officials down and tried to physically assault them. When the visiting players finally headed to their locker room, led by one of their assistant coaches, they broke at least one of the sideline chairs and dumped a trash can out on the court.
To his credit Cougar player Jamal Shead came along and cleaned up the mess his cohorts had made.
The Tide shot 48% in the second half on 14-29 including 4-10 from deep and made 7-11 free throws. For the game the team ended up 26-50 for 52% and 7-18 from three for 39% with a healthy 24-31 for 77% from the free throw line. Bama had 34 rebounds. 14 assists, 12 turnovers, four steals, and six blocks. Houston shot 15-35 in the half with 4-12 from deep and 7-12 from the line. Overall the finished 31-73 for 42%, 9-26 for 34% from three and 11-19 for 58% from the line. The Cougars grabbed 43 rebounds, with 21 of them being on the offensive end, had 11 assists, 10 turnovers, eight steals, and six blocks.
Individually, Gary led the way with 19 points and four rebounds, followed by Shackelford with 18 points and eight rebounds, and Quinerly with 17 points and eight assists. Davison scored 10 and led the team with nine boards. Noah Gurley contributed eight points, but he and Bediako both fouled out and only had one rebound each. Ellis is going to have to do more than score four points (no made field goals) and three rebounds.
This was a tough, hard fought win over an excellent team. The Tide has now beaten two of last year’s final four teams in consecutive games. For the first time since 2015-2016 Bama beat two ranked teams in back to back games, and this was the first top 15 matchup in Coleman since 2007. For the third time this season, and only the fourth in Oats’ three years, the Tide took less than 20 three point shots. Bama is proving they can win games in many ways. Giving up so many offensive rebounds isn't sustainable and the second chance opportunities allowed Houston to take an absurd 73 shots on the night. Oats said that they “We’re all displeased with the rebounding effort” and “we got our butts kicked on the glass and our bigs didn't rebound well enough.”
Next up for the Tide is a road game with another talented team, the Memphis Tigers. The game will be on Tuesday at 8 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN.