Alabama bounced back from a heartbreaking loss on the road to the top team in the country by dominating 20th ranked Ole Miss to improve to 12-6 (3-3) on the season. The game was not even as close as the score indicated.
About 40 minutes before tip-off there was a brief confrontation between the teams at midcourt. I did not see how it started, but was told that Ole Miss had been occupying the entire court for most of the time during warmups. All players from both teams were gathered near the division line with a lot of animated jawing back and forth going on while the coaches worked to separate the squads. JP and Dan were at the forefront of our guys, while Terence Davis seemed to be the main instigator for the land sharks. Any concerns that our minds would still be on Tennessee instead of the Black Bears was promptly alleviated.
I was a little surprised that we stuck with the same lineup. Given JP's recent success and the struggles of T-Mack and Herbert, I thought he might crack back into the lineup. He had another outstanding game off the bench, and played 27 minutes, the most of anybody on the team, so it may be that he's more comfortable in the 6th man role.
The officials had longer than usual conversations with the head coaches prior to tipoff, I would assume in regards to the pregame altercation. It was no surprise that the game was called tight, especially in the early goings.
After struggling out of the gate for the first couple of minutes, the Tide took over the game and never looked back. Herb ran the offense a bit from a point-forward position in the early goings. We were pushing the tempo and I suspect this was an attempt to get him to just play without over thinking his shots and build some confidence. He failed to finish at the rim a few times, but on defense was back to his usual lock-down self.
The effort and intensity from our guys was relentless. We've been critical of Dazon at times, but I think he came up with every 50/50 ball he was involved in. He grabbed a few rebounds despite being initially out of position. One key play that epitomized this game occured in the first half when all five of our guys hit the deck in a scramble for a loose ball, Riley eventually came up with it and we scored in transition.
Meanwhile, Davis continued to act a fool and picked up a technical foul late in the first half. This helped us extend the halftime lead to 16 at 42-26.
I was beginning to have flashbacks to Georgia State and Texas A&M, but this time, there would be no second half meltdown. Instead, we kept our foot on the gas and came out attacking. We went right at Terrence Davis and had him fouled out with 16 minutes to play in the game. An 8-1 run pushed the lead to 23, and JP would nail a 3 a couple of minutes later to give us a 28 point advantage with 12 minutes remaining. The Rebels were officially run out of the gym without ever making a run of their own.
We played solid defense down the stretch and controlled the boards to coast to an easy, impressive victory. CAJ showed some mercy in the final minutes by emptying the bench and letting the walkons get a little playing time.
JP ended up with 15 points in another fantastic effort. He's controlling the ball on the dribble drive and finishing at the rim and making good passes, which is opening up his jump shot as well. Hopefully he has turned the corner and has emerged as a legit go-to option for us.
Donta had yet another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He was a force on defense defending the paint with 3 blocks as well. Much like Petty, Donta has benefited from diversifying his game and finding alternate ways to score. He had a Euro-step move in transition that was a thing of beauty. It's not all garbage put-back dunks anymore, though he still does that as well as anyone.
It was a great all-around effort. Galin Smith even came off the bench and played well with 10 points in 15 minutes. The most encouraging part of this game to me is that we seemed to address our previous problems. I would argue that our three biggest weaknesses this year have been turnovers, free throws, and interior defense. We only had 9 turnovers, made 17 of 22 free throws, and held the fighting Admiral Ackbars to just 16 points in the paint.
The bottom line is we need something close to this effort on a consistent basis going forward, not just against ranked opponents. If we get it, we'll be dancing, and maybe even with a decent seed.
The student turnout was awesome as their section was more or less packed. Not so much for the rest of the arena, I would estimate only about 7,500 were in attendance, which was disappointing for a top 20 game. That being said, those who were there were very loud and appreciative of the blue collar effort. There were about a dozen obnoxious Ole Miss fans up in the corner, who could be heard unsuccessfully attempting to distract our free throw shooters and chanting "air ball" after Herb missed a layup off the backboard and thus wasn't even an "air ball," at all. All of this while they were down 15+ points, mind you.
Up next, we travel to Waco, TX to take on the Baylor Bears in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Baylor is a hard team to figure, they have some dumbfounding losses but some great wins and seem to be playing much better recently (sound familiar?). It's a huge game for both teams. I'm looking forward to making the trip, and I actually know a few other Tide fans going as well, so maybe we'll have a decent contingent in the stands. Tip off is set for 11 am Saturday, and it will be broadcast on ESPNU.