Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tide gets in a hurry, beats Murray, Alabama 78 Murray State 72

This was a solid win against a team that has a very good chance of making the NCAA tournament with arguably the best point guard in the country.  We were sluggish early, came back to take a fairly comfortable halftime lead, blew that lead within a matter of minutes to start the second half, responded with another run, and then had to hold on for dear life during the final stretch.  There were a lot of ups and downs, so let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

While the substitution patterns have improved, I will reiterate once again that this starting lineup is nonsense.  For all of Coach Johnson's talk about going to "position-less basketball" he continues to start both a power forward in Galin and a center in Hall.  They should not be in the game at the same time.  We are a better team on both ends of the floor when we use a stretch 4 at that position.  Alex should be starting over Galin, but Ingram or even T-Mack would be an improvement.  We fell behind to start the game, had a 10 point lead at halftime, put the same starting line up on the floor in the second half and it was a one possession game within 3 minutes. 

We've got to get more production from the bigs.  Donta Hall has seemingly regressed.  Murray State played a zone defense early, and seemed to emphasize keeping him off the boards.  He seems to get down on himself when things don't go his way early.  He made a great play in the second half on an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw, but was otherwise a non-factor.  

After doing much better the last couple of games, the turnover problem was back on full display.  I think a big contributing factor was that we were trying to play fast, but we had way too many unforced and careless turnovers.  Herb and Dazon combined for 11 of the teams 20 turnovers.  Herb plays great defense and has a ton of potential, but his offensive game is not quite at the level many of us were hoping.  Dazon is careless with the ball at times, but he can also defend multiple positions and his free throw shooting is on-point in clutch time.  I did not envy the decision Coach Johnson had to make in the final five minutes against the press with Dazon, with one of the more reliable free throw shooters also being a turnover machine.  In the end, Dazon went 7 of 8 from the line and that was a big reason we were able to hold on.

We benefited from a couple of questionable calls.  Their coach was assessed a technical foul after arguing a no-call on what should have been a foul on Herb.  AJ also got away with a blatant walk on a possession that resulted in an "and one" basket for us.  The officials spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about our bench and chirping with our staff, at one point turning their back to the play for several seconds during live ball action.

I thought we actually did a fairly good job on Ja Morant despite the fact that he scored 38 points.  We gave him many different looks with Herb, Dazon, and Kira all matching up with him, though we got caught in some bad switches at times and ended up with a big chasing him around.  Many of his baskets were very well contested.  While the 38 points was impressive, he also had only 5 assists to 10 turnovers.  Those numbers are more or less reversed from what he normally puts up.  We made him work for everything he got and took away his second options, forcing him to try to beat us by himself.  To his credit, he was nearly good enough to do so.

We keep expecting Kira Lewis to struggle at some point, but he's met every challenge with ease so far.  He ended up with 20 points, 3 assists, and only one turnover, and the team just plays on another level when he's in the game.  It's crazy to think he's only 17 years old and should be playing high school ball right now.  

JP had a great game, scoring 16 points despite not making a three.  It was nice to see him attacking the basket on the backdoor cuts and finishing around the rim.  He also had 7 rebounds, and appears to really be diversifying his game.  There will be nights when the 3 doesn't fall, and him being able to help us in other ways, like he did in this game, will be a big factor in our ability to win despite poor shooting.

It was a small crowd of less than 5,000, and Murray State had a significant portion of that, with a large group up in the corner and at least a few sprinkled throughout all the other sections.  I was impressed with the visiting Racers fans, they were loud and passionate in cheering on their team and seemed knowledgeable of the game.  Our fans responded in the second half with the game on the line.

Up next, we travel to Orlando, FL Thursday night to take on the UCF Golden Knights.  It's sure to be a tough atmosphere as they have been "wanting Bama" for quite some time now.  They beat us last year and are picked to win their conference this year.  Bobbyjack is making the trip, so he will have to give us a first hand account.  I'll be watching on ESPNU.

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