After struggling for much of the game, Alabama pulled ahead late to improve to 2-0 in the young season.
Kira Lewis is way ahead of schedule at this point. The youngest player in college basketball got off to a hot start by making some early 3s, and he's been very efficient running the point in the first two games. He ended up with 21 points and only one turnover while shooting 50% from the field in 31 minutes of play. He's already locked down the starting point guard position and he will only get better.
I still do not like the substitution patterns, at all. In general, I felt like we subbed too frequently and did not allow any unit on the floor to build any cohesiveness. Beyond that, some of that combinations we use are completely inexplicable. At one point we had AJ, Dazon, Alex, T-Mack and Galin in the game. AJ had a terrible game, firing up a couple of air-balls and only playing for 6 minutes. T-Mack has yet to show he can be an effective scorer this year. Dazon was obviously still not 100% coming off of his injury. Alex is most effective with another scorer on the floor who can open up the defense so he can exploit a bad match-up. I'm not sure where we expect to get rebounding or defense, much less scoring, out of this group. I'm not criticizing any of those players, they all bring positive skills to the floor, but they don't compliment each other in a way that makes sense to play them as a group. This lineup blew the early lead and allowed App State to gain some confidence from beyond the arc, which would keep them in the game well into the second half.
Tevin Mack was called for a technical foul for hanging onto the rim after a dunk, and was taken out of the game and did not return. If the benching was due to the technical, I strongly disagree with that decision as I thought it was a bad call. In fact, Donta appeared to hang on the rim longer after an earlier dunk and no technical was called.
The team did show some maturity in how they handled the adversity of a 6 point deficit in the second half. Herb really stepped up on defense and forced a few turnovers, and generally shut down the perimeter game that had been keeping the Mountaineers afloat. Herb's offense is a bit of a concern, he still doesn't seem to have much of a jump shot and he had a difficult time finishing around the basket. At one point he was only 1 of 6 from the free throw line, and he ended up 6 of 16. Nevertheless, you have to love his hustle, and the fact that he does not let a bad shooting game impact the rest of his game. We do not win that game without Herb Jones' defense.
We were able to come back and take a 10 point lead, primarily by doing what we should have been doing the whole game, and that's attacking the basket and crashing the offensive glass. We were a much bigger and stronger team, but I felt like we did not assert ourselves physically until the final ten minutes of the game. I know that analytics generally suggests that perimeter-oriented teams will be more successful, and while we have a few guys who are capable of knocking down the three, I still think the identity of this team should be centered on our size and depth inside.
We ended up with 4 guys in double-figures. In addition to Kira's 21, JP added 13, Hall 12, and Herb managed to get 10. We were 26 of 43 from the line, but JP and Dazon both converted when we needed them in the final minutes to keep the game in hand. We were fortunate that App State was somehow even worse than us from the free throw line, they went 14 of 25.
After 2 games, there's a lot to be excited about, and still a lot of room for improvement. In my opinion the two biggest keys to the season will be getting some production out of T-Mack and the coaching staff figuring out a logical playing rotation. They also need to do a better job with the overall game plan than we had in these first two games.
There was a decent crowd on hand considering the strange 6 p.m. on Sunday night tip-off time. I would estimate close to 5,000 in attendance. I showed up an hour early hoping to snag one of the promotional Veteran's Day hats they were giving away, but they were already out, despite there being well less than 1,000 people there at that point. I only saw 3 or 4 people with them, and I had friends who arrived as early as 4:45 and did not get them. Anyway, there was a nervous, quiet energy throughout the crowd for most of the game, but the technical foul on Mack's dunk seemed to wake the crowd, and it was a nice atmosphere for the final run. Up next, the Tide will play away from the friendly confines of Coleman for the first time this season as they travel to Charleston, SC and will face the Northeastern Huskies in the first round of the Charleston Classic at 1 p.m. CST Thursday. The game will be televised on ESPNU, and I'm sure many of us will be taking a long, late lunch.