Wow, just wow!
When the Crimson Tide plays and shoots like they did tonight, they can beat anyone in the country. A dominating 96-77 victory over Maryland of the Big 10 puts the Tide in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004. Alabama will play 11th seeded UCLA on Sunday.
Coach Nate Oats changed up the starting lineup, inserting Juwan Gary for Jordan Bruner and keeping Keon Ellis in for Joshua Primo, who had been out with an knee injury. Gary brings unlimited energy and enthusiasm to the court no matter how many minutes he gets in a game, and he certainly provided a spark in this one.
Things looked a little precarious early on, as Maryland jumped out to an 11-5 lead. Herb Jones picked up his second foul early at about the same time that Ellis tweaked something. This forced Josh Primo into the game, and we had no idea what we’d be able to get from him. Fortunately Primo and Ellis both turned out to be fine, and thanks to scorching hot shooting across the board, Herb’s extended stays on the bench didn’t hurt.
Primo came off the bench and hit his first two three point attempts. Late season hero Alex Reese came off the bench firing to make three shots from long range in the half, and John Petty hit a couple of shots in the lane. All told, the Tide went on a 15-4 run to take a 27-22 lead, which they never surrendered.
At the half, the Tide held a 46-38 advantage led by Reese’s 11 points and Jahvon Quinerly’s nine assists. Bama shot 17-33 for 51% including 8-17 from deep and 4-4 from the free throw line. The Tide had 20 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, two blocks, and five turnovers at the break. Maryland shot lights out as well with 16-32 including 6-17 from deep, and had 10 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and only three turnovers.
After the break, the Tide pushed the point spread out past double figures and when Petty finally heated up, it was goodnight for Maryland. The Alabama senior hit consecutive long range shots and you could almost see the weight being lifted off his shoulders after struggling for the last several games. Jaden Shackelford followed Petty’s makes with two long three pointers of his own to give the Tide a 14-0 run and the margin ballooned to 65-42 with 14:54 left in the game.
After a timeout, Bama got a little sloppy for two straight possessions with turnovers and Maryland, to their credit, never gave up. Maryland’s Aaron Wiggins was a beast and kept the Terrapins from being totally blown out on his own, contributing 27 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
The ball movement by the Tide was a thing of beauty, particularly during the second half. Quinerly was a magician in the lane, pulling Globetrotter type moves before laying the ball in the basket. Primo had follow slam that showed his knee was much better, and Reese followed up with a hoop on a follow up. Quinerly hit a three pointer and drew a technical for saying “boom” to the Maryland defender with just over three minutes left, much to Oats’s ire. Petty hit his fourth long range bomb with 1:08 left to empty the bench with a 94-75 lead. Freshman Keon Ambrose-Hylton made a basket late and the Tide had the big 96-77 win.
In the second half, the Tide hit 18-33 including 8-17 from deep and 6-6 from the charity stripe. Bama finished 35-66 for 54%, 16-33 from three and a perfect 10-10 from the line. The team had 40 big rebounds, 19 assists, five steals, four blocks and 10 turnovers. Maryland shot well, making 53% on 32-60 including 10-27 from three, but made only 3-7 free throws. The Terps finished with only 19 rebounds, but had 17 assists, six steals, one block and only eight turnovers.
Individually, the Tide box was a thing of beauty. Five guys in double figures, with everyone contributing. Shackelford had 21 points on 6-11 shooting, 5-8 from deep, and 4-4 from the free throw line. Petty broke out of his offensive funk with 20 points on 7-15 from the field and 4-9 from three. Quinerly had a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists, and even added five rebounds. Reese finished with 13 plus five boards. Primo was the last in double digits with 10 points and four rebounds. Jones was limited to 17 minutes by foul trouble, but had six points and six rebounds. Gary led the team with seven rebounds and added six points in a career high 25 minutes played.
Oats was pleased with the offense, but said the team will need to play much better defense when they meet UCLA on Sunday. Asked about Petty, Oats said “JP is much too good a player to not see the ball go through the hoop. It was great to see him make some shots.” As always Oats was very complimentary of Reese, and was pleased that Primo was back and seemingly unaffected by his injury. Oats mentioned that Jordan Bruner came to his room last night and told him he could go but that his mobility would be limited, and suggested that he would be fine in whatever role he needed to be in, if that meant playing little or none.
This is such an exciting team to watch and they have a real chance to continue to advance. When they are making shots they are a difficult matchup for anyone. With the defensive intensity Bama is known for on top of hot shooting, the sky is the limit. The unselfishness and cohesiveness of this unit is a joy to watch. Four more wins and the nets come down!