The Alabama Crimson Tide brought in a top-three recruiting class for this season, and leaned on them in their season opener on Monday night. The Tide defeated the Longwood Lancers by a score of 75-54. Longwood played in the NCAA Tournament last year after winning the Big South Conference, and are favored to repeat this season. It is a quality, veteran team with plenty of big game experience — and nowhere near good enough.
Coach Nate Oats sent out a starting five of Brandon Miller, Mark Sears, Noah Clowney, Charles Bediako, and Nimari Burnett. Bediako is the only one of the quintet that suited up for the Tide last season. Miller and Clowney are freshmen, Burnett transferred from Texas Tech last year but missed the season after knee surgery, and Muscle Shoals native Sears is a transfer from Ohio. Oats said he started Clowney because, “he has led us in blue collar points in practice by a large margin.”
Bama never trailed in the game and lead 11-3 with 14:20 left in the first half, when Oats subbed out all five starters. Three-point shooting continued to be an issue, and the teams first make was with 7:30 left in the half by freshman Rylan Griffin. The Tide used relentless defense and hustle to forge a 30-17 lead with 3:43 left. Longwood showed signs of life and closed the half time margin to 34-26.
At the break the Tide was shooting 45% on 14-31, including 1-13 from three point range, and 5-8 from the free throw line. Bama’s suffocating defense held the Lancers to 9-35 for 26% in the first stanza, including 4-8 from three. The visitors also was 4-6 from the free throw line.
Oats used the same starting five in the second half. Clowney made the Tide’s second three point basket of the game with 16:32 left in the game to make the score 42-27. Bama continued to attack the basket and at one point had three straight “-and one” opportunities — although they missed the free throw on two of those occasions. The three-point shooting never got any better despite having several open looks.
Bediako, Miller, and another freshman, Jaden Bradley, dominated the last several minutes of play until Oats emptied the bench with about one minute remaining.
In the second half the Tide shot 13-38 for 39% including 2-15 from deep and made 13-18 free throws. Overall the team shot 39% on 27-69 from the field, which included a putrid 3-28 from deep and made 18-26 from the charity stripe for 69%. Longwood was 10-36 for 28% in the half with only 1-5 from three point range and 7-13 from the line. Overall the Lancers finished just 19-71 for 27%, 5-13 for 39% from three, and 11-19 for 54% from the free throw line.
Alabama absolutely dominated the boards with an amazing 67-38 margin. The Tide grabbed 22 on the offensive end. Bama dished only 10 assists to 19 turnovers, had nine blocked shots, and six steals. Longwood had eight assists, three blocks, 10 turnovers, and eight steals.
Individually the Tide had two guys with double-doubles, and two more that just missed out. The superstar Miller led the way with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and added a blocked shot. Griffin matched the 14 points of his classmate. Mark Sears, at 6”1”, had the other double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while dishing five assists. Bediako had eight points and 12 rebounds while earning the hard hat award for the game. Clowney was a missed free throw away from a double-double of his own with nine points and 11 rebounds. Bradley continually drove to the basket and muscled his way to points late in the second half and finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
Eight players played double digit minutes, and that was without Jahvon Quinerly or Dom Welch even being dressed out. Darius Miles and Noah Gurley, two of the few hold overs from last season, have been battling injuries and played just seven and nine minutes, respectively.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
First, the good: The effort and defense were miles ahead of last seasons. The length and athleticism of the team jumps out at you.
The bad: 19 turnovers — definitely need to cut down on the miscues.
The U-G-L-Y: Three-point shooting was abysmal, which was true in the two exhibition games. Sears, Welch, Gurley, and Burnett all transferred in with a reputation of being excellent shooters from deep. Miller, Griffin, and Clowney have been praised for their shooting prowess.
The team will not shoot 3-28 every game, but showed that they can beat good competition when they do with defense, rebounding, and effort.
Miller is special, Clowney is a load down low, Griffin is a scorer, and Bradley is a tough, hard-nose point guard. That is a heck of a freshman class.
When Welch and Quinerly return and Miles and Gurley are ready to go full time the Tide will have legitimate depth with 12 guys. This should be a fun team to follow this season, especially when the shots start falling.
The Tide takes the court again on Friday when the welcome Liberty to Coleman for a 7 p.m. CT tip off. Once again the game will only by available on SEC Network Plus. Liberty is another good mid major team that is picked to win their conference this year, the A-Sun.