Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Bama Thrills Against McGill, 96-57

The Tide rolled to an easy victory in the first exhibition game of the 2017-18 season over the Redmen of McGill University in Montreal Canada.  The starting lineup was 1. Sexton 2. Petty, 3. Key, 4. Riley, 5. Hall.  Dazon Ingram did not play as expected.

Before I get into the meat of the game, I would like to discuss the rule differences in this league.  I know many of you probably don't care about this topic, but being an official I tend to focus on these things.  You will notice from the pics that the lane is wider.  I could not tell if the 3-point line was longer or the court is slightly narrower, but there was less room in the corners between the arc and the sideline.  This caused a handful of turnovers for our guys.  You'll note the 24 second clock, which reset to 14 on offensive rebounds.  They play 4 ten minute quarters, with a team entering the bonus on either the 3rd or 4th foul (it was confusing to figure out because the scoreboard was consistently wrong, and often-times the officials would be about to put the ball in play before being alerted that we were in the bonus).  Overall, I really like these rules.  You don't spend 13 minutes of a half shooting free throws if one team hacks away early.  The shorter shot clock and wider lane really opens up the court and increases the pace of play.  It's an exciting brand of basketball, and I hope the NCAA continues to trend in that direction.  The officials also used a couple of different signals.  The official closest to the table makes an X to signal substitutions to his partners; I also like this, as the standard hand raised could be for a number of issues.  Anything that increases communications with your partners will make the game go more smoothly, in my opinion.  Likewise, they use their fingers to form a "T" to indicate a timeout, rather than just the raised hand and pointing at a bench.  I don't like this one as much, as it can be easily confused with the "technical foul" sign.  They do not require the defensive team to occupy the low blocks on the first of two free throws, and the lead official signals such by raising both hands.  I suppose this prevents some bone-headed lane violations.  In any event, I thought the officials called a fair game and did not give McGill any "home cooking," but perhaps did throw some mercy calls their way in the second half.  They generally let the teams play and did a nice job of managing the game.

Now, onto the game itself.  It was obvious in pre-game warmups that McGill just wasn't going to be big enough or athletic enough to hang with us.  They are a scrappy, well coached team who won their division last year, but from talking to some locals it's my understanding they lost their two best players from that team.  Nevertheless, both teams opened in a man to man defense and the Redman ran some nice plays, set a couple of good screens to make open shots, and forced some early turnovers to take an 11-2 lead.  Alabama then proceeded to go on a 31-2 run that completely demoralized the McGill team and effectively ended the game in the second quarter.

Petty was bombing 3s from all over the court.  Sexton was also lighting it up and slashing to the basket.  Daniel Giddens had a fantastic game with several awesome dunks.  Of the two big men, I think Hall looked better in the scrimmage but Giddens definitely had the better game.  I think the up-tempo flow of the game favored Giddens as Hall still has issues with his footwork in transition at times.  The score stuck for a bit on 19-11 as we seemed to temporarily lose our momentum before resuming the onslaught.  While McGill did miss a few decent looks, the defense played very well from middle of the first quarter till almost halftime.  The Redmen went several minutes without a basket.

Meanwhile the offense showed its explosiveness.  McGill finally switched to a zone to try to slow us down, and Giddens immediately went back door for an oop.

Collin mainly ran the point but Petty got some time there too, along with Key in a point forward role, before AJ ran it much of the second half.

Ar'Mond Davis had a nice game off the bench and looked more comfortable than he did at any point last year.

I was hoping to score 100, but the team backed off a bit and played mostly the bench guys in the second half.  AJ, Law Dog, Alex Reese, Herb Jones, and Galin Smith all got some valuable work in while still moderately extending the lead.

The only negative in this game from my perspective was too many turnovers, but again, at least 4 of those I think were a result of the dimensions of the court.  We had a few unforced travels, but most of the turnovers were the result of guys trying to do too much, particular Collin driving in and trying to make the highlight pass.  I can live with that in this game, it's an exhibition and guys are trying to put on a show, but I hope we make better decisions when the chips are down.

The official box score only credits us with 5 assists and one block, but I'm pretty certain that isn't right.  I thought we moved the ball well offensively, and I recall at least 4 or 5 blocked shots.  It appeared McGill was using students at the scorer's table, so take the final stat sheet with a grain of salt.   Generally speaking, we moved the ball well on offense when we wanted to, and passes were more on-time and on-target than most of our games last season.  It's a shame we didn't send more staff, including Chris and Bryan on this trip, but by all accounts the McGill crew did a great job on the live stream.

Collin Sexton is an extremely gifted basketball player.  He's also more than a little eccentric.  In the pic at the top, you can see him warming up shooting by himself while all of his other teammates were on the other end.  He joined them for sprints just moments after that was taken.  At one point when we were on our run in the first half, he made a nice play on a put back "and one" and immediately stared down and clapped aggressively in the direction of the McGill student section.  I was sitting near these students, and a few moments later during a dead ball he comes walking toward us bowed up yelling, "who's talkin shit?  who wants to talk shit!?  Who got something to say now!?"  Keep in mind the score is 44-22 at this point.  When he was shooting free throws, the students started the "o-ver-ra-ted" chant, and after making the shots, Collin gave it right back to them, complete with the hand claps.  I love the fire and competitiveness, but to the extent there was beef between Collin and the students, frankly, it appeared to me that Collin started it.  Most of the McGill fans there admitted they were mainly there to see him play.  In fact, he was very animated in complaining about his fifth foul call (in fairness, I think the last 2 on him were mercy calls), despite the fact that McGill's coach was kind enough to tell the officials to allow him to stay in the game, since that's what everyone came to see.  Coach Johnson ended up taking him out a few minutes later.  For what it's worth, the team seems to respond well to him and respect him.  He's a vocal leader on both ends while the ball is in play, and it was good to see him joking around with Dazon on the bench at the end of the game.

This concludes the basketball portion of this post, but I'm going to spend a little more time than usual talking about the game experience here because it was such an unusual situation.  There are much more knowledgeable basketball writers on this blog, but I'm fortunate  my real life obligations provide with the flexibility to be able to attend more games than most.  So, I hope I can give a sense of the first hand experience to our readers, but for those of you who just want to read about the game itself, you can skip the rest.

Montreal is a wonderful city, and the people at McGill were very nice and hospitable, but the facility would be average at best for a 4A high school here.  Pictured above is the entrance.    They refer to the arena as the "Love Competition arena," but you'll note there are no outdoor signs indicating such.  A search of "Love Competition arena" in my GPS app was fruitless.  Thankfully, they print the address on the ticket in English.  Unfortunately, putting that address into the GPS also proves fruitless.  Finally, thanks to google translate, I translated the address from English (as it was printed on the ticket) to French and was able to locate it for my Uber driver.

Upon walking through that door, you do not enter a gymnasium.  There is a turnstile, a desk, and a guard sitting at the desk.  I showed him my ticket and said, "umm, I'm here for the basketball game?"  He replies as he motions me through, "okay, just show them your ticket upstairs."  I look around, and I see no stairs.  He explains, "go down the hall, pass the weight room and the pool, turn  left, go up stairs, turn right, and the arena is on your left."  Basically, they play in their student rec center.

Upon walking in, the first thing I notice is there is no air conditioning.  In fairness, it's a luxury probably not often needed during basketball season in Canada, but even though it was only 68F outside, it was brutally hot in there.  I was sweating like an Ole Miss athletic administrator at an NCAA infractions committee hearing within 5 minutes of taking my seat.  There is only seating on one side of the gym.  If you look closely at the pic at the very top, yes, those are those foam AC insulation tubes (kind of ironic actually) placed over the rails in the front row and secured with duct tape to provide padding.  They have one concession stand, with limited options, but the people working it were very friendly and the food was much higher quality and much more reasonably priced than what we serve at Coleman (which admittedly isn't saying much.)  I had a hot dog that was very good as far as stadium hot dogs go and a Molson Canadian for 9 Canadian dollars, which comes out to about 7 bucks.  You can barely get a water for that at our games.

The seats are temporary risers, the place was about 90% full but only the lower level was open, they had another section of risers folded up.  There were probably only about 400 or so there, with several dozen Alabama fans including a few prominent booster and former trustee types.

I spent some time sight seeing during the day since it was my first trip to Montreal.  I hope it's not my last; I really can't say enough good things about the city.  Even though the only French I speak is the type that Bobby doesn't allow on this blog, it wasn't a hindrance.  Almost everyone is bilingual and most of the signs are in both French and English.  The few places that aren't, google translate can help fill in the gaps.  The people were very helpful and friendly and nice.

I went for a run in the morning and kept stopping to take pictures...the architecture, particularly some of the older churches, was very impressive.  I toured the Notre-Dame Basilica which I highly recommend, it's well worth the $6 price of admission.  The city is also very clean.  I noticed numerous workers out very early meticulously making sure there was no trash, cigarette butts, etc on the streets.   Being a baseball fan, I couldn't pass on the free "history of baseball in Montreal" exhibit that's currently on display at city hall.  It was neat to see one of my childhood favorites, Andre Dawson's gold glove award.  In the afternoon I hiked up nearby Mt. Royal which is an easy hike and offers breathtaking views of the city and skyline.  Oh, and the food was phenomenal.

Up next, we go to Ottawa to play the Carleton University Ravens tomorrow night at 6 p.m. central.  This will be a much tougher test, as they are the dominant team in the league and have knocked off several NCAA teams over the years, including a 20 point win over Wichita last year.  Unfortunately, there is no television or streaming for this game, and day job obligations forced me back into the States today.  I do have a friend who will be attending, and I'm going to try to convince him to broadcast on periscope.  If he agrees to do so, I will post the details here.

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