Alabama survived another close, hard fought battle against a solid team to improve to 7-2 on the season.
After the loss to UCF, Dazon called a players only meeting. I was anxious to see how the team would respond to his veteran leadership. We looked focused and much improved defensively, especially in the first half. We forced a few turnovers and got some easy baskets in transition to build a 10 point lead.
I lost some respect for Dan Hurley in this game. He got a technical foul in the first half for arguing with the officials. I do think he had a legitimate gripe on that play, as Sexton got away with carrying the ball, but he proceeded to whine and argue literally EVERY call, including some of the most obvious ones, that went against his team, all the while encouraging them to play very physical defense. There were multiple incidents when he could and should have been called for a second and ejected. I thought there were a lot of bad calls on both sides, but in fairness it was the type of game that is extremely difficult to officiate. It was very sloppy, physical Conversely, other than when Herb Jones was called for a travel after he got pushed in the first half, Coach Johnson really did not argue much with the officials. I thought he was too far on the other spectrum, and at times would have liked to see him do more to try to protect his players. It seemed Rhode Island got the benefit of a few calls in the second half because the refs were tired of listening to Hurley's whining.
Collin Sexton got poked in the eye with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half and finally returned late in the second half with stitches. He only played 17 minutes but scored 11 points, including a huge 3 to regain momentum after Rhode Island had tied the game. He had a few words for Hurley and the Rams' bench after said 3 as well, and he was in their heads.
With Collin out most of the game several players stepped up. Dazon had to play 37 minutes and finished with a double-double, 10 points and 14 rebounds. While he struggled with turnovers and free throws, he came through when we needed him the most, making 7 of 8 in the final 2 minutes.
Donta Hall continues to be the MVP of this team. He led the team in points and rebounds with 13 and 14 respectively. Petty's shooting slump continues as he was 1 of 5 from 3 point range, but he utilized some other parts of his game and managed to score 12 points. He had a huge rebound and put back late in the game, but his defense and ball handling has a long way to go. He tries to be too flashy at times and makes poor decisions, and like too many guys on this team, does not value the basketball. At one point he appeared to re-injure his ankle but stayed in the game. I don't think he's 100%, and hopefully the extended break after the Arizona game will get him back on track.
Give some credit to Rhode Island, as they are a good defensive team and were averaging 18 forced turnovers per game, but 24 turnovers is ridiculous. I would go old school and make every guard carry a basketball around campus 24/7 and encourage students to try to steal it from them, and have them run stairs for each time they cough it up. (I'm only half-joking here).
The defense was not as good in the second half. Petty and Dazon were both guilty of not closing out on shooters or getting their hands up at times, and coupled with our turnover issues on the offensive end, the Rams were able to erase an 11 point deficit. Sexton's immediate answer when they tied the game really set the tone for the remainder of the contest.
We had a balanced scoring attack with 5 guys in double digits, including 12 from Daniel Giddens off the bench. He matches up very well against smaller forwards and centers that he can post up, and I expect we'll see a lot more of him in some games than others depending on the lineups.
Overall, it's always frustrating to watch a team turn the ball over 24 times and barely shoot 60% at the free throw line, but when you can do that and still beat a good team with your best player only playing 17 minutes that's an encouraging sign. And to everyone still upset about the UCF lost, please note that Kansas lost to Washington last night, and a shout out to my Mom's alma mater, the Loyola University-Chicago Ramblers for upsetting Florida in Gainesville. Even good teams lose games they shouldn't, especially this time of the year.
The crowd was decent but not as great as the last few games; I would estimate around 9,000 or so, and there was a nervousness atmosphere through much of the game, as it appeared we were on the verge of repeating the UCF collapse in the second half. The last two games the seats around us have been occupied by a family with 4 or 5 (I honestly lose count because they are jumping and moving around so much) of the most undisciplined, obnoxious kids I've ever encountered. The baby of the bunch who can barely walk, literally climbed over us multiple times per game going between parents. They sneak in outside food and leave garbage all over the place. One of the brats wiped avocado on my girlfriend's pants. They constantly stand up on the seats and jump around while the game is going on. They finally, mercifully, exited with about 8 minutes remaining, but not without the oldest, probably 8-10 yrs in age, throwing a full fledged tantrum and getting into a face to face screaming match with his father. While I generally favor having more fans closer to the floor, I would prefer empty seats to this bunch, and if they come back and start that nonsense again I am going to ask the usher to start checking tickets, because I'm pretty sure they don't all have seats near us.
Up next, we travel to Tucson for our first true road game against the Arizona Wildcats, who are one of the most talented teams in the country. They were ranked top 5 in the preseason, lost 3 games in their Thanksgiving tournament, but seem to have bounced back coming off a win over top 10 and previously unbeaten Texas A&M. It will take our best effort to date to be competitive. The game tips at 8pm local time, 9 Central, and will be televised on ESPN2.