Nate Oats became the fastest coach to 100 wins in program history on Saturday, as his Tide destroyed the Liberty Flames 101-56 in the CM Newton Classic. The game was played at Legacy Arena in Birmingham which had been kryptonite for the Tide in past years, but perhaps the two wins in the NCAA Tournament last spring helped exorcise those demons.
Oats continued to use the starting five of Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Grant Nelson, and Mohamed Wague. Both teams started slowly and at the first media timeout the score was only 5-3 in favor of the Tide. When play resumed, Oats had inserted Sam Walters, Nick Pringle, Jarin Stevenson, and Latrell Wrightsell, Jr into the game to play with Estrada.
Stevenson made a long three pointer followed quickly by two from behind the arc by Wrightsell and with 11 minutes left in the half Bama led 18-7. Walters tossed in two from long range, and Sears made one before Wrightsell hit two more to push the lead out to 41-24 with 3:45 left in the period.
At the break Bama led 48-27 on the back of red hot shooting. The Tide shot 16-28 for 57% including 9-15 for 60% from three point range, while making 7-8 from the free throw line. Bama added 21 rebounds, stole four balls, blocked two shots, dished out 11 assists, and only turned the ball over five times. Wrightsell led the way with 12 points on 4-4 from three point range and added three rebounds and two assists. Stevenson had one of his best halves of the season, scoring nine points.
Liberty was held to 38% shooting on 11-29 including 4-15 from three and made 1-2 free throws. The Flames had only 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and five turnovers. Zach Cleveland and Kaden Metheny both scored nine points each to lead Liberty.
Both teams utilized the same starters for the second half. Once again the Tide had a slow start, before pouring it on. At the first media timeout Bama had only scored six points and led 54-38. Wrightsell, Sears, and Griffen all stuck three point shots, mixed in with a nifty move and lay in by Walters and suddenly with 8:45 left the score was pushed out to 82-45. Wague made a put back with 49 seconds left to put the Tide over the century mark for the fifth time this season and the 101-56 victory.
In the second half Bama shot 19-32 for 59% with 5-13 from three point range for 39%, while making 10-12 free throws for 83%. Overall the Tide shot 35-60 for 58% including 14-28 from deep and 17-20 from the free throw line for 85%. Alabama finished with 46 big rebounds, pilfered eight steals, blocked four shots, had 21 assists, and turned the ball over only eight times. Wrightsell connected on 5-7 three pointers and 6-8 overall to lead the team with 19 points while adding four rebounds and two assists. Sears started slow but finished fast, scoring 16 points with four rebounds and four assists. Estrada notched a double-double, just missing out on a triple double, with 13 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, and threw in four steals for good measure. Nelson added 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal, and three blocked shots. Walters continued his strong play of late and was the sixth man in double digits with 10 points and four rebounds. Bama did a great job staying out of foul trouble, only being whistled 16 times. For the first time in a while neither Wague or Pringle fouled out of the game.
Liberty was held to 10-34 for 29% in the second with 6-20 from deep and 3-4 at the charity stripe. Overall the Tide defense forced the Flames to shoot only 21-63 for 33%, 10-35 for 29% from behind the arc, and 4-6 at the free throw line. Bama almost doubled Liberty on the board, allowing only 24 to the Flames. LU blocked one shot, had two steals, 15 assists, while turning the ball over only nine times. Metheny scored 14 and Cleveland 13 to lead the team.
Oats played eight players at least 14 minutes each in the game, and two more clocked nine minutes each. Sears with 28 minutes, Nelson and Estrada with 26 each, and Griffen with 23 led the way. Stevenson only logged six minutes in last weeks game, but played 20 in todays contest. Pringle played on only, but left the game early in the second half with a lower leg issue of some type when he appeared to bang knees with a Flame player. Estrada was the best all around player on the floor today.
This was a lot better win than most people think. Liberty is a quality opponent, and by virtue of being a neutral site game is considered a Quad One win. Right now the wins over Indiana State, Oregon, and Liberty are the best on the Tide’s resume. With SEC play starting next week the opportunity for big wins will abound. The defensive effort was much better today, and although Liberty is a legitimate team, they don't have much size, which plays into the Tide’s favor. I will venture to say if/when Bama shoots 58% from the field and 50% from three point range they have a very good chance of winning.
Next up is SEC play. The Tide will travel to the gym of horrors, Memorial, in Nashville to play the Vanderbilt Commodores next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will be shown on the SEC Network.