My view for the game
Tony Mitchell was suspended. Alabama had not been playing well as of late. Auburn had only lost one home game this year, and that was to a very good Kentucky team that they played surprisingly close. Their tiny arena was actually packed for a change, and they came in very emotional, thirsty for blood, anticipating their first win over their hated but superior rival in their new arena. That was the scene. It was loud, and actually a great atmosphere for college basketball.
Not surprisingly, auburn rode the early emotional high to a 7 point lead. Chubb scored 8 early points, in large part due to Nick Jacobs ineffective defense. In a night full of positives, Jacobs struggled. That's going to happen from time to time, especially to the freshmen. Thankfully his teammates really picked him up.
As MSmilie correctly pointed out below, it was a great move to have Steele in the starting lineup. We kept our composure despite the early deficit. We matched their intensity but stayed under control, and took advantage of some stupid auburn mistakes. I think auburn's overly emotional approach came back to bite them, as evidenced by 3 technicals in the first half. Admittedly, I thought the first one was questionable. The second one, the guy did a chin up on the rim, which is inexcusable after knowing they are going to call it after the first one. I don't know what their bench did to get the 3rd technical, but it followed a pretty obvious and correct foul call against auburn's Chubb.
As I said, we made them pay for those mistakes. Hankerson and Carl Engstrom, of all people, played a huge role in first half comeback. Hankerson, once again, was able to knock down some outside shots which opened things up for Carl and Green in the post.
We actually did a great job of managing the clock at the end of the first half, utilizing the 2 for 1 I've been begging for all year, and we cashed in on our opportunities to turn a 7 point defecit into an 11 point lead at the half.
The big story of the night was that we actually made some 3 point shots. I've already mentioned Hankerson's contributions, but Cooper went 2 for 2 and Green even added one. I thought a couple of key moments were when we answered auburn's 3s with treys of our own, it really took their crowd out of the game. This was the first game all year that I can recall us being able to shoot our opponent out of the zone.
Releford struggled a bit at times in the first half, but when we were able to extend the auburn defense he had more room to work with when driving to the basket, and more often than not was able to either get to the line, where he made 9 of 10, or put us in position to school. His 6 turnovers were too many, but some of those were not his fault. Our players must learn to always expect the ball. One play that sticks out in my mind, Releford made a great steal, then saved the ball, then drove in and around some aubie defenders, and made a great pass to Levi who was wide open on the low block. Unfortunately, Levi was looking up at the rim anticipating a shot rather than a pass.
Despite his offensive struggles, Levi had another great game defensively, as did the whole team. We forced 20 turnovers. The press was effective when we used it, and we had great on ball pressure in our man to man defense.
I said earlier that we need Tony Mitchell to buy in and be a part of this team to reach our potential. I stand by that statement. In years of watching basketball, I have noticed that often times a team who loses a star player to suspension or injury will sometimes play better in the short term, as other guys play "over their heads" to pick up the slack, but that usually doesn't last and in the long term the star's production is missed. I would like to think Coop, Hank, Carl, and Green can bring this game every night, but I suspect at some point we will need Tony back. The challenge now is to continue to play at the level we did last night.
Predictably, auburn made a run and cut the 20 point lead down to 11 at one point, but our guys answered and almost immediately stretched it back out to a comfortable margin. My only complaint is we committed too many fouls down the stretch that could have let them back into the game if they were capable of shooting a free throw.
It was great to see Coach Grant and the team having fun at the end of the game. There were close to 1,000 Alabama fans in attendance, many of which were behind the basket where I was sitting. The players acknowledged the Tide fans as the clock ran out. JaMychal Green even pointed directly at me, and I gave him a "Roll Tide!"
Up next, we stay on a strict diet of Tiger Meat as we travel to Baton Rouge, LA for a 6pm tipoff Saturday night against LSU. The game will be televised on ESPN2. I anticipate an environment similar to what we had to deal with last night. I am making the trip, and will try to post something Sunday when I return.