Alabama got huge games from Dazon, AJ, and Riley to win its first road game of the season and 4th straight over the Bulldogs in Starkville.
After a slow start, Alabama played lock down defense and went on a huge run to take a 32-20 lead into halftime. We generally limited $tate to one contested shot, and actually pushed the ball up the court on offense. The announcers talked a lot about us "cutting the playbook in half." I'm not sure if that is what led to the better flow offensively or not, but I hope we see more of it.
Things got a little dicey in the second half when Braxton, who was a key contributor on both ends of the court in building our halftime lead, picked up a couple of early fouls and had to go to the bench with 4. I thought a couple of the charges that went against us should have been blocks, as the $tate defenders never established position. Foul trouble was a problem for most of the second half, and $tate took advantage by knocking down some open 3s from the corner and promptly erasing our lead.
We've struggled in the second half of close games this season on the road, so it was very nice to see the team actually show some poise and respond with runs on their own. $tate overcame two sizable deficits, but each time we answered with a run to push the lead back out to a fairly comfortable margin. Sure, we weren't facing the quality of team or the hostile environments we dealt with in Eugene or Austin, but I still think it's an area we showed remarkable improvement.
I've questioned Riley's defensive abilities here in the past, but he did a remarkable job on Weatherspoon. I was surprised he drew the assignment, along with Dazon in the man-to-man for the most part as opposed to Braxton Key, but they combined to hold him to only 7 points.
Our bigs totally dominated the boards. $tate mustered just 5 offensive rebounds. It was great to see Donta and Jimmie actually make some shots other than dunks in the post.
Dazon may be finally getting close to being 100% healthy. He looked much more explosive and strong in driving to the basket and finishing around the rim. He scored 13 points and barely missed another double-double with 9 rebounds. I also liked that we finally used his size and posted him up a few times. If he could develop some moves to score with his back to the basket, and develop a somewhat consistent jump shot, he would be nearly unstoppable. Riley scored 11 points including a clutch 3 late in the game, so hopefully that will get his shot back on track. AJ added 13 and continues to give defenses fits with his floater and using all of the glass.
Hale only played 8 minutes, but he contributed by actually playing good defense and grabbing a couple of rebounds. Collins came back and I thought he played well, getting a basket during a key moment in the game and playing solid defense. Davis did not see the floor. The playing rotation finally seems to be taking some shape that makes sense, and it will be interesting to see how Nick King figures into the equation when he returns.
$tate is a talented team, but not a very good team. They lack a post presence and seem to have some chemistry issues. Nevertheless, it was a great defensive effort and a badly needed road win. Plus, it's always fun to beat those guys. Did anybody else notice "Starkvegas" on the baseline of their court? Perhaps someone should tell them the "Starkvegas" meme started as a sarcastic insult to their little village, as a way of pointing out the large contrast between the lights and glamour of Las Vegas and the barren farmland they inhabit. Also, what's with the county names written all over the sideline of the court? Ugly and stupid, in my opinion, but I guess that's perfect for their fan base.
Up next, our first home conference game of the season Saturday afternoon as Vandy comes to Tuscaloosa for a 6pm tipoff. Hopefully a big crowd will turn out to show some appreciation to the guys for their improved play over the last few games, and help us stay undefeated in SEC play. If you can't make it to Coleman, the game will be televised on ESPNU.