The Alabama Crimson Tide turned a close first half game into a runaway in the second half, defeating the LSU Tigers 109-88 on Saturday night in Coleman Coliseum.
‘Bama led 50-44 at the break, but pulled away in the second half to improve to 14-6 overall and a league-leading 6-1 in SEC play. The Tigers fell to 11-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play.
Fans of offensive basketball were given a treat. The Tide’s backcourt was especially lethal, despite a poor shooting night from Mark Sears.
But defense was scarce to be found in Coleman Coliseum: both teams shot lights-out from the arc, and nine out of the ten starters hit double digits.
Still, Alabama took care of its business, and even rebounded exceptionally well, but you can’t imagine that Coach Oats is going to be pleased with the Tide’s defensive intensity, especially the perimeter rotation.
With Nick Pringle and Mohamed Wague both nursing injuries, Coach Nate Oats went with a small starting lineup. Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Latrell Wrightsell, Jr, Rylan Griffen, and Grant Nelson took the floor to begin the game. Neither Pringle nor Wague starters, and both played very limited minutes.
The Tide was hot from behind the arc to begin the game, as Griffen, Wrightsell (twice), and Estrada all hit from behind the arc to stake a 12-8 lead after two and a half minutes.
But LSU was in no-miss mode themselves, and evened things up at 17-17 with 13:50 remaining. Jarin Stevenson and the little-used Davin Cosby took their turns tossing in long-range jumpers and the Tide led 26-20 at the 10 minute mark.
The Tigers then went on a run and surged to a 32-30 lead with 7:36 left before Wrightsell connected again. With just over three minutes left, Oats got fed up with Doug Shows referee crew and drew a technical foul.
With Wrightsell, Estrada, and Nelson leading the way, Bama appeared to lead 50-42 at the half. However, a review on an offensive goaltending call against LSU was overturned, and the score became 50-44 at intermission.
In the first half, the Tide shot 15-33 for 46%, including 8-23 for 35% from deep and made 12-14 free throws. Bama had 20 total rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, no blocks, and only two turnovers. Wrightsell led the scoring with 12 points on 4-7 three point shots. Estrada scored 10 with five assists, and three rebounds. Nelson added nine. With Sears having a quite half-only six points and 0-4 from deep, the Tide needed the other three to step up, and they did.
LSU shot 15-31 for 48%, 5-13 for 39% from deep, and made only 7-13 free throws. The Tigers grabbed 18 rebounds, had two steals, one block, five assists, and committed six turnovers. Jalen Cook and Mike Williams III both scored eight points to lead the visitors.
The same starters began the second half. After a slow start for the first couple of minutes, the Tide began to turn things on. Estrada and Wrightsell both hit from deep, and with 14:55 remaining, ‘Bama had built a 64-53 lead; the margin was never fewer than 12 points, as the Tide poured things on.
Griffen battled foul trouble in the first half with three, and then drew his fourth on a technical foul, but heated up with a pair of three-pointers. Sears also took over for a long portion, driving the lane and scoring, or drawing fouls and getting to the line.
In the second half, Bama was scorching: 20-30 for 66%, 6-11 for 55% from three, and 13-14 from the line.
Overall the Tide was an exceptional 35-63 for 56%, 14-34 for 42% from deep, and a stellar 25-28 for 89% from the charity stripe. Alabama finished with 42 rebounds, 23 assists, four blocks, eight steals, and 12 turnovers. The majority of the turnovers came late, well after the game was decided.
The SEC’s leading scorer, Sears, managed to score over his average, with 21 points — despite not making any three point attempts and only going 5-11 from the field. However, the Muscle Shoals senior was 11-11 from the free throw line and also contributed five assists, three rebounds, and a steal.
Wrightsell, Jr. continued his excellent play with 19 points on 6-12 shooting, 5-10 from deep, and added two steals. Aaron Estrada bounced back from his goose egg against Auburn by scoring 18 points, and leading the team in rebounds with six, and assists with seven. The grad student threw in two steals and earned another hard hat award.
Nelson continued his resurgence with 12 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes, shooting 3-4 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line. Griffen tossed in 12 points in only 18 minutes to be the fifth player in double digits. Mouhamed Dioubate continues to earn playing time and scored eight points in 14 minutes.
LSU shot 14-38 for 37% in the second half, including 6-15 for 40% from three made 10-14 free throws. Overall the Tigers shot 30-71 for 42%, 11-28 for 39% from deep and a bad 17-27 for 63% at the charity stripe. Williams with 16 was the leading scorer, followed by Derek Fountain with 14, Will Baker with 12, Cook with 11, and Jordan Wright with 10.
Oats was pleased with the sold-out crowd and the energy in the arena. He said that the atmosphere helps the team greatly. Coach Oats was happy with the offense, but once again lamented the defensive side of the ball.
The fifth-year coach knows that most teams can’t keep up with the Tide at the pace they play, but emphasized that defense has to be a bigger part of the equation. Previous Tide teams under Oats have been so good defensively that he seems flummoxed by this group in that regard.
The team always plays hard and can score with any club in the nation, but on the days when the shot aren't falling, and they have to count on their defense, they will be in trouble, as happened in tilts against Clenson and Ohio State, for instance
The three-headed monster of Sears-Estrada-Wrightsell have been on the floor together a lot more the last few games and have given Alabama three guys that can score from anywhere.
Nelson seems to be finding his niche and continues to get better. Griffen can score and defend at a high level. Stevenson is getting better game by game, and by the time tournament season rolls around should be a huge part of any Alabama success. This is a fun team to watch, even if the defensive effort is frustrating at times.
Up next is a road trip to Athens, GA to take on the surprising (and surprisingly dangerous) Georgia Bulldogs. The game is on Wednesday, January 31 at 5:30 p.m. CT and can be seen on the SECN. Then, on Saturday, February 3rd, the other Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa for a 7:30 p.m. tip, also on the SEC Network. The Tide took the previous meeting in Starkville in a close, physical game. And Mississippi State cannot be overlooked either: MSU has already claimed a win over Tennessee, and beat Auburn today to burnish their tourney hopes.
Given Alabama’s struggles in the post, and its deep dangerous backcourt, should the Tide just start a small lineup?
This poll is closed
Yes. May as well outscore everyone if you can’t defend very well
No. Alabama is going to need to just get better and more physical in the post as part of a better defensive effort.
It really depends on the opponent.