Alabama survived an exciting game against a very good UT-Arlington squad and remains undefeated after the one point victory.
This roller coaster game featured another poor start, a come-from behind rally to take a substantial lead, and a near collapse at the end.
Hervey is a matchup nightmare as an athletic 6'9 with good size who is athletic enough to dribble and shoot from the perimeter. We started out with Donta Hall on him, but he couldn't guard him away from the basket and Hervey found his shooting touch early. Neal was very good distributing the ball and running the offense for them, and we continue to have problems switching in our man-to-man defense. Often times we either switch late leaving the ball-handler for an open jump shot, or we fail to switch back at the earliest opportunity when we get into bad matchups. With the Mavs hot shooting, they were able to run out to a 12 point lead in the first half.
Collin Sexton's athleticism and quickness was an equally difficult matchup for them. His prolific scoring kept us in the game for much of the first half. It was a fast-paced, high scoring affair, and even down 12 it did not feel like that much of a deficit.
We made some very nice defensive adjustments in the second half that turned the game around. We started taking the passing lanes away from Neal. Dazon was very disruptive to their transition offense. We threw multiple bodies at Hervey, keeping him off-balance. Herb Jones was phenomenal, taking FOUR charges to go along with his 4 steals and 9 rebounds. After giving up 46 points in the first half, we only allowed 30 in the second. Bama built their 5 point lead primarily with Collin and Petty on the bench, and it was a result of the defense getting stops, forcing turnovers, and scoring in transition. AJ came off the bench and gave us a nice spark, making a couple of 3s.
Just when things started to get comfortable, Neal made a series of very well contested 3s setting up an exciting but nerve wracking finish. We had the ball with a 2 point lead and under a minute to play, and Coach called for a clear out for Collin, who scored an "And one," to give us a 4 point lead, but he missed the free throw. So down 4, Neal makes another miraculous 3 to bring the Mavs to within 1 with 19 seconds. Herb was called for a 5 second call on the in-bounds, giving UTA a chance to win the game in their final possession. Herb actually did a good job of running the base-line and it looked like he had a passing lane to get the ball in to Riley, but he hesitated. We probably should have had the senior Riley in-bounding the ball in that situation as opposed to a freshman, regardless of how well Herb has played. Coach wisely called a timeout to set up the defense, and correctly anticipated that UTA would stick with their hot hand in Neal. We turned to Sexton to man up on him, and Collin just seems to live for moments like this. He made a fantastic stop, moving his feet to stay in front of him, not falling for the head-fake, getting a hand on the ball just before the shot attempt, and not giving him an inch of room. Herb was in great position and secured the ball to be sure there would be no put-back.
Collin ended up with 29 points, shot 11 of 14 from the free throw line, and had the aforementioned game winning defensive stop. Herb's defense and taking charges turned the game around in the second half. Donta didn't play well in the first half and had some foul trouble, but he bounced back and did a much better job, especially defensively and rebounding in the second half. Dan contributed briefly in the second half with a couple of baskets in the post when UTA tried to go small. AJ's 3s were a big part of the comeback. Riley made his season debut coming back from an injury. He looked a little rusty, but still helped by coming up with a couple of loose balls. I feel like we really missed Braxton Key in this game. He would have matched up better with Hervey defensively than anybody else we could put on him, and he likely would have been in-bounding the ball on our last possession rather than Herb.
John Petty struggled after his record setting performance against AAMU. He was 2 for 10 from 3 point range with 8 points and 4 turnovers. He seemed to get frustrated a bit when his shots weren't falling. I'm a little concerned that he's relying too exclusively on perimeter jump shots. He has a nice mid-range jumper and has the athletic ability to get to the rim and/or draw fouls. He has a nice shot, but I would like to see more of his all-around game. He's attempted only one shot from inside the arc the last 2 games.
UTA is an experienced team that could get to the tournament and make some noise. This was a big win for our team for several reasons. It should give us confidence in close games, and it will be an RPI boost and likely a nice note on the resume when selection Sunday rolls around.
Long time readers of the blog know that I've been critical of, and frustrated with our fan base at times over the years due to a lack of attendance and/or enthusiasm. I thought the crowd and atmosphere last night was amazing! The announced attendance was over 11,000, and there weren't many no-shows, I would guess around 10,000 were actually there, including a nice student turn out. There was one UTA fan somewhere in the crowd who made an annoying sound every time we attempted a shot. I can only describe it as a high pitched one syllable shriek that peaks at the beginning and sort of tails off. It sounded like a cross between the noise you might imagine a baby seal makes when first getting clubbed and a hyena reaching an orgasm. Anyway, when UTA had the ball the student section, and many others in the crowd, hilariously, and repeatedly, mimicked the sound mocking the UTA fan. More importantly, even when things looked bleak with a double-digit deficit in the first half, the crowd was in to the game and encouraging our guys. I'm not sure if we win that game in Arlington or on a neutral floor. We've had a few close, drama filled games over the last few years, but we haven't won many at home. I'm guessing the outcome will bring a lot of those same people back for more. It was nice to Levi Randolph and Terrance Meade in attendance, along with Mo Williams doing commentary on the television broadcast.
Up next, we travel to Brooklyn, NY where we will take on the BYU Cougars at LIU-Brooklyn's Steinberg Wellness Center. The game will tip-off at 2:30 ET but will not be televised. It will be streamed on Facebook Live. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!