Alabama overcame injuries, 20 turnovers, and more poor free throw shooting to get a huge road win in Starkville.
Let me start with what I admit will come across as an old man "get off my lawn" comment. I hate this trend of teams not wearing the proper colors. You can't turn on a random game and know which team is which anymore. Obviously, it's not a problem when it's your team playing, but suppose someone on the west coast that knew nothing about our teams tuned into the game last night. They would have seen Mississippi State, who's colors are maroon, wearing black jerseys. The bigger issue, is that the home team should always wear white in basketball, but since $tate decided to go with the black jerseys, we were wearing white on the road. I like to quote Coach Saban when teams wear black uniforms for no apparent reason, "they were going to their own funeral."
This was one of our better offensive performances. We executed our half court sets better than we have all year. It helps that we shot the ball well, but I believe that was a direct result of the great spacing and ball movement. Defensively, our bigs had no answer for Gavin Ware, but the guards did a fantastic job against Weatherspoon and Newman. We held the lead through most of the first half and led 38-34 at halftime.
Give $tate some credit for making some adjustments in the second half. Our shooting went cold as our offense became stagnant, and the Bulldogs went on a huge run to take a 7 point lead with 5 minutes remaining. This team never gives up as Riley, Retin, and Justin all hit big 3s down the stretch to force the game into overtime.
The end of regulation was a real cluster-you-know-what. We used a timeout with about 25 seconds to play, and should have held the ball for the last shot. Instead, Retin was called for a charge with 10 seconds left. Mistakenly thinking we had a foul to give, we intentionally fouled them a couple of seconds later, which was our 7th team foul. The announcers also thought we had a foul to give initially, so I am assuming the scoreboard operators in Starkville likely did not put Retin's charge, which was our 6th team foul, on the board. Of course, the scoreboard is not official, it's what is in the book that counts. If the foul was not put on the board, it was incompetence at best or a Busch league move at worst by $tate's clock operator, neither of which should be surprising. Regardless, it's an inexcusable mistake by our coaching staff that could have very easily cost us the game. I don't entirely fault Coach Johnson, he's trying to make a quick decision and probably just looked up at the board, but we must have an assistant coach or a graduate assistant responsible for keeping up with fouls, and they should have alerted the head coach before we were able to foul there. Thankfully they clanked the front end of the one and one and we went on to overtime.
I did not agree with our decision to stay in a zone defense with a 3 point lead at the end of the game, but thankfully MSU inexplicably decided to pass up open 3 point looks to go inside on their last 2 possessions.
Retin was clearly the MVP, making some miraculous shots in crunch time and scoring 25 points with 8 assists in 43 minutes, but we don't win that game without Riley Norris stepping up. With Hale out with an injury, Riley had to deliver his A-game on both ends of the floor. He came through with 16 points going 4 of 8 from the 3-point range. Unfortunately, he was also only 4 of 8 from the free throw line, and we were 17 of 27 as a team. Justin Coleman also had a big game despite battling turf toe. He scored 15 points on 3 of 5 shooting from 3 point range including the game winning shot and made some clutch free throws at the end. It seems counter-intuitive, but I liked him at the 2 guard with Retin running point.
Art Edwards had a nice game as well with 12 points, and I liked that we used him as a cutter to get him some open looks inside moving toward the basket. It was a nice new wrinkle in our half-court sets versus exclusively trying to set him up on the perimeter to stretch the defense.
Jimmie Taylor played a little better offensively, scoring 8 points, but he was horrific on defense against Ware. We are lucky $tate's guards were content with jacking up 3s, where they were just 3 of 18 for the game, for long stretches of time without working the ball inside. I'm a little surprised Donta Hall only played 6 minutes. He managed to pull down 4 rebounds, but also picked up a couple of fouls. Lawson Schaffer gave us a couple of minutes, and was in the game at the end to possibly shoot free throws. It says a lot that Coach Johnson trusts him not to turn the ball over in that situation.
Speaking of turnovers, we continue to have way too many unforced errors. As noted above, free throw shooting is a major concern, and we desperately need to get more production in the post.
Unfortunately, injuries are continuing to pile up. Hale re-injured his foot and missed the game, and will likely miss the Mizzou game as well. Kessens went down with another knee injury. Avery Jr. said on periscope after the game that Mike would be back "in a few days," but I have also heard that the injury looked much more serious at the game.
It's no secret how much I dislike $tate, but I have to say I was impressed by the effort from their current players. Both teams battled hard, and as their young talent matures as well as whoever else Howland buys, they are going to be a force in the coming years. I expect this rivalry to intensify back to levels of the Gottfried v. $tansfield era.
With the win, we currently have an RPI of 51. This was a huge win for our hopes of getting an NIT bid. I think we are likely in the NIT if we just win our remaining home games with the exception of Texas A&M. It's highly unlikely, but winning out at home, which would include an upset win over the Aggies, and picking up one more road win somewhere (Georgia?) would probably get us into the NCAA tournament.
Up next, the Mizzou Tigers come to Ttown for a 2 pm tipoff Saturday. While Mizzou isn't very good, we can't afford a let down. We are a beat up team right now, and hopefully there will be a strong crowd on hand to give them a boost. The game will be televised on SEC Network.