Next man up! Shortly before the game it was announced that Shannon Hale would not play due to a "medical condition." There are lots of rumors out there about what that "medical condition" may be, but I have not heard anything credible at this point and will not repeat anything that I consider to be unsubstantiated at this point. When asked about Hale's availability for the Oregon game, his response was "potentially, but not likely."
The team collectively stepped up and took care of business without Shannon or Dazon. Justin Coleman seems to have found his shot, going 3 for 5 from downtown and leading us in scoring with 18 points. It was a team effort, with 4 guys scoring in double digits. Jimmie had 14, Retin had 12, and Art Edwards put up 11. Jimmie Taylor was the MVP dropping a double-double. I've advocated for more playing time for Donta Hall, but when Jimmie Taylor is finishing around the basket and cleaning the glass like he did in this game, it's hard to justify taking minutes away from him.
Perhaps somewhat overlooked, I thought Brandon Austin had a good game. He scored 7 points for us in the first half when the game was close, and I felt like his first 3 was a big shot in the game. We had struggled shooting up to that point, and he sort of took the lid off the basket for us.
Without Dazon, I've said that Coleman stepping up is a must. In addition to his 18 points he had 5 assists to 3 turnovers. I thought he did a fine job running point for the most part, and despite giving up 17 first half points to Keon Johnson, I actually thought he did an adequate job defensively on him.
We made some defensive adjustments in the second half and played mostly a softer man with some half-court trapping mixed in, allowing Winthrop to put some shots up from the outside. They never found their groove, going only 5 of 26 from the 3 point range on the game, and we were able to stretch the lead out to 23 points at one time. Winthrop made a small charge to get it back down to 13 or so, but we were never really in danger after our big second half run.
We were also more aggressive in attacking the basket in the second half. Winthrop seemed to live at the free throw line in the first 20 minutes, but those roles reversed in the second half. We ended up 11 for 17, which considering Jimmie went a predictable 4 of 8, that's not awful.
We had a size and athleticism advantage in the post, and it looked like Winthrop's bigs didn't have any interest in doing battle in the paint. Coach Johnson and staff did a great job of recognizing and taking advantage of this.
With Hale out for who knows how long, I'm going to call out Riley Norris much like I did when Dazon went down. Norris has the best skill set to replace what we are missing with Shannon, but he seems to be in a bit of sophomore slump so far this season. We need him to make some shots, give us solid minutes at the 3 and 4, grab a few rebounds, and play better defense.
The crowd was actually better than I expected, though still not what I would have liked. I would estimate about 5,500 to 6,000 were in the house. With the students gone, and the game a blowout for the most part, it wasn't a very loud and energetic atmosphere, although the fans did show their appreciation at appropriate times and most stayed till the end.
Up next, a true home game for me, as the Tide will play the Oregon Ducks at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, just a couple of blocks from my office. Oregon was ranked in the top 25 for much of the season until a tough loss at Boise, but they still sit at 8-2 and project to be a solid tournament team. The Knight-Eady group has done a fantastic job of marketing the Vulcan Classic, and I can say that the city of Birmingham is truly excited about hosting Bama basketball. This is a great opportunity for us to pick up another quality win against tough competition. Tip-off is set for 8 pm Monday night, and for those of you who can't make it to my hood, the game will be televised on ESPNU.