Alabama came out flat after receiving a lot of positive national attention for their hoop-it-up squad's performance in Brooklyn last Saturday. I was a little disappointed we didn't start Riley and Galin to acknowledge their efforts in the Minnesota game.
The defense was atrocious at times in the first half. We continue to have issues switching on screens, so we went to a 2-3 zone for much of the game. Unfortunately, their guards, especially Bracey, was able to penetrate and finish at the rim. On the other end, when we weren't turning it over we were getting good looks, but couldn't finish anything. The Bulldogs made their free throws while we bricked most of ours, and they built a 10 point lead, but we finished the first half on a nice run to cut it to 1. This trend of starting slow really concerns me. It's going to be very difficult to win true road games if we fall behind by double-digits in the first half and allow opposing crowds to be a factor in the games.
Give Louisiana Tech a lot of credit for answering at the start of the second half. They forced some turnovers and knocked down some jump shots to rebuild their lead back to 11. We had some unusual substitution patterns, and finally made another run to get back in the game with the unorthodox lineup of AJ, Dazon, Herb, Alex, and Galin.
A big turning point came when Donta blocked a shot off the glass that resulted in a Sexton dunk at the other end to cut the lead to 3. The crowd really got into the game and the team seemed to play with a lot more confidence after that point.
We struggled to get stops down the stretch but were able to match their scoring, and the lead changed hands several times in the final few minutes. We managed to get to the free throw line and actually make 16 of our last 18, as our lead went between 3 and 1 the last few possessions. La Tech had a chance to tie at the end when our deflection went straight to a wide open Bulldog on the wing, but thankfully his 3 at the buzzer didn't fall.
Sexton played out of control for most of the game, but he made things happen in the final 10 minutes when we needed it most. He still ended up with 22 points despite not having his best game. Dazon Ingram was the MVP for us, also with 22 points and 9 rebounds. He made plays on both ends to keep us in the game while the rest of the team was struggling. Donta had a big game with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He had a few dunks on put backs, and remarkably went 3 for 3 from the free throw line.
Petty was a game time decision after his injury, and he started the game, but did not play well. In the first half he looked fine physically, but was pressing and making some bad decisions with the ball. He watched most of the second half from the bench, even in the final minutes when one would think he would be needed for his free throw shooting. Coach Johnson just said it was a matter of trying to find the right lineups, but I'm not buying that. He appeared to be limping a bit to me when he came out of the game for the last time. I heard from some watching the broadcast that he was seen showing some attitude on the bench. I did notice that he wasn't as animated as his teammates on the bench, but did seem more engaged towards the end of the game. It's pure speculation, but my guess is he was telling the coaches he was okay and wanted to continue playing, but the coaches decided he didn't look 100% and wasn't playing well, so they thought it better to bench him, and he was frustrated that he wasn't able to compete at the level he normally does.
Speaking of injuries, Dazon was forced to head to the locker room after being taken out by the officials for a few minutes in the second half. At first, I assumed he was bleeding, but the officials may have thought he was exhibiting concussion symptoms. Regardless, thankfully he was able to return after the next timeout and seemed fine.
It was another good crowd for a Wednesday night of about 10,000. La Tech kept us quiet for much of the night by building and maintaining the early lead, but the atmosphere was generally positive and it got fairly loud when we finally made our run in the second half. Everybody was on their feet and cheering for most of the final 2-3 minutes.
Up next, another very good UCF team comes to Tuscaloosa for a 1 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon. The game will be televised on ESPNU.