The good news is our defense played awesome, holding the highest scoring team in the country to less than half of their average. The bad news is our half court offense looked even more inept than usual for most of the game, against a team not known for the defensive ability.
Algie Key got the start in favor of Releford who sat out with an aggravated hip injury. Our bad offense is horrendous without him on the floor. To make matters worse Nick Jacobs re-injured his shoulder and had to come out of the game. He returned wearing a support, but it was obvious he was trying to play through a lot of pain. He showed some toughness in getting to the line and making some big free throws for us in the second half.
First, the positives. That was one of the best defensive efforts you will ever see. We wore them down with the press and played great man to man defense in the half court. Communication was excellent. Even guys like Algie Key and Levi Randolph who didn't do much on the offensive end, never lose their man and did a great job of closing out on the perimeter. Jimmie Taylor didn't allow them to establish anything in the paint. The Bucs are a great 3 point shooting team and we held them to 4 of 17.
Retin Obasohan had a career day, and he continues to be the most exciting player to watch on the Tide. With Releford out, it was imperative that Retin step up for us, and he did in a big way with 22 points, 6 steals, 9 rebounds, and a couple more ridiculous blocked shots. He may not be the distributor or the shooter that Releford is, but he played his game and took care of the basketball, with only 2 turnovers, which is exactly what we needed.
Despite Retin's fantastic game, the MVP in my eyes was Rodney Cooper. When we fell behind by 8 in the first 10 minutes of the game, it was Coop who scored the next 5 points to get us back in it. We managed to take a 1 point lead into halftime, and then he made 3 straight 3-pointers about midway through the second half to stretch the lead to a comfortable 10 point margin. While we never really put them away, they never seriously challenged us after that either. Cooper has been going through an awful slump and had lost his starting job, but hopefully this game restored his confidence. He probably won't go 4 from 7 from downtown every night, but a confident Rodney Cooper is capable of giving us over 10 pts per night, and we desperately need that.
It was an extremely ugly and frankly boring game at times. The score was stuck at 33-29 for over 4 minutes of the second half. CSU switched between a 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone, and we had no answer. The basic primary ways of attacking a 2-3 zone defense are:
1) shoot over it.
2) Spread them out and create lanes to drive to the basket
3) Get the ball to a big man with good passing skills in the high post who can either shoot from the elbow or get the ball to your slashers
4) Quick ball reversal from the strong side to the weak side to get your 3 or 4 position an open look in the short corner.
Obviously, option 1 really isn't much of an option with our personnel, especially with Releford on the bench. We simply aren't a great perimeter shooting team. Also, if you have a dominant post player who you can get the ball to down low, you can collapse the zone and play inside-out for an open look. Again, we simply don't have the personnel to do this, especially with Nick Jacobs on the bench.
All of the other 3 options have one thing in common: They require good ball movement and spacing. For the most part, I think we get pretty good spacing and our guys make an effort to move without the ball. The biggest problem with our offense, in my opinion, is a lack of ball movement. Part of this is likely due to the differentl lineups we have been forced to use throughout the year due to injuries and foul trouble. The guys aren't used to playing with the same groups, and they don't have a good feel for what their teammates are going to do without the ball. All of our guards and small forwards seem to take 3 seconds or so from the time they receive a pass to survey the situation and decide their next move. This gives the zone defense time to recover back to their proper positions. I have no idea what we do in practice, but I would like to see us run some drills that require the guys to make a correct decision within 1.5 seconds of catching the ball whether to shoot, pass, or dribble with a purpose to either attack the rim or create a passing lane.
It's worth noting that Coach Grant and Coach Brannen had a fairly heated exchange with around 15 minutes remaining in the game. I could not quite make out what was said or figure out what it was about, but they both referred to their stat sheets and it was clear that Coach Grant was angry at Brannen for something, but Brannen was not backing down. Their interactions did not seemed strained later in the game. Sometimes it's good for an assistant to challenge the head coach on some things, and hopefully that was the case here as opposed to it being a sign of dissension among the staff.
It was a very subpar crowd with graduation ceremonies going on earlier in the day. I would estimate no more than 3,000 there. The atmosphere was especially dead with there being virtually no students there. At the start of the game there was only one student sitting on the floor, a handful of others made their way down toward the end of the first half. It's really unfortunate that arguably the two biggest home games of the year coming up will be played while the students are out for winter break. I wish we would have scheduled one of these in Birmingham.
If we can somehow win 2 out of the next 3 (Wichita State, Xavier, @UCLA) we will be back to being reasonably within the conversation of having a chance to make the NCAA tournament. Realistically, I fear we will be lucky to win 1 of the 3.
Up next, the 2nd highest ranked non-conference opponent EVER to play in Coleman Coliseum when the Shocker of Wichita State come in for an 8 p.m. tipoff Tuesday night. This is a great chance to turn the season around. They are 10-0 and coming off a win over Tennessee, and also have road wins at Tulsa and St. Louis. THIS IS A HUGE GAME AND TICKETS ARE ONLY $8. GET YOUR ASSES TO COLEMAN AND SUPPORT THIS TEAM!