This is fun, isn’t it?
An Alabama basketball team that looked so rough early in the season before ripping off ten consecutive wins just continues to come together. This time they had to follow a loss to Oklahoma while dealing with a very banged up Herb Jones, playing a LSU team that had to be playing with a little extra motivation after taking a 30 point embarrassment against the Tide at home.
The first half saw the Tide frustrated from the three point line at a mere 2/13, but they took a six point lead into the break on outstanding defensive effort and some slick interior passing that led to easy looks. Importantly, they made a reasonable number of shots close to the basket which has been a struggle at times for this team.
Jaden Shackelford led the way with ten points in the first half despite missing all five of his three point attempts. He said that he texted Nate Oats to apologize for missing easy shots in the Oklahoma loss, and to his credit he did a much better job finishing in this one. Juwan Gary made an important early contribution as well, filling in for a banged up Herb Jones who found himself in foul trouble. It was an important half for the team, as they proved that they could play winning basketball even when cold from the outside.
The Tide had to feel that things would go well for them if they kept up the defensive effort, figuring that a few more shots would fall in the second half. They did, and they did. Alabama roared out of the gate with an 11-2 run punctuated by a dunk from Gary, and LSU never threatened after that. This game was won on toughness and execution that might remind you of a Nick Saban team coming off a disappointing loss.
Everyone deserves a shout out after this game. Alex Reese played with his hair on fire all night, corralling several loose balls to go with four rebounds and two blocks, and he shot it well. Keon Ellis made a solid contribution, ten points and seven boards. Jahvon Quinerly added ten points off the bench. Shackelford led the way with 19 points, and Gary added 12 points with seven rebounds of his own. Herb Jones gutted out another one through all kinds of pain, grabbing eight boards in basically a half of basketball. He went out early in the second half with four fouls, and it was never necessary to put him back in.
Though he played outstanding defense and grabbed seven boards, John Petty had a rough outing offensively with only six points. In fact, Petty and Jones combined for only ten. No matter, five players had double digit points and four had seven rebounds or more. The final rebound tally was 51-35 in favor of Alabama. This was the consummate team win, and it has to be a confidence builder going forward.
If there is an area of concern, it’s point guard. Jahvon Quinerly played well tonight but didn’t start, and it seems that he has some work to do on the defensive end before Nate Oats is going to hand the reins back to him. Herb Jones has filled in admirably as the primary ballhandler, but that really isn’t his best game and is quite demanding for a guy who guards the other team’s best player and gives up his body the way that Herb does. Coming into the season it was assumed that Quinerly and Josh Primo would be primary ballhandlers, and that has not materialized.
Still, any criticism of this performance would be nitpicking. Alabama didn’t shoot the ball all that well at only 25% from three, had to play without their best overall player for a long stretch, and beat a team tied for second in the SEC by 18 points. You always wonder how a team will respond after a tough loss, particularly coming off of a long winning streak. They passed that test with flying colors, sit at 10-0 in conference play and have all but clinched the regular season title.
This team is for real.