Long time readers of the blog know that I generally prefer a man-to-man defense over a zone, but I loved the decision to start this game in a zone, and our 2-3 gave them fits the entire first half. We still had issues with turnovers and missed free throws, but T-Mack and Kira hit a few 3s while Donta held his own with the Carolina bigs to build a 13 point lead. Unfortunately, it looked like things would play out according to the recent script when the Cocks cut the lead to 6 at halftime and slowly chipped away for most of the second half before taking a 5 point lead with 8 minutes left.
Given the way we've finished halves and games over the last three weeks, you would be forgiven for not having much hope at that point. It's true that an injury hurt their momentum and they made some unforced errors, but our players and coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for showing great composure and energy to come back and get a solid win.
So many guys made key plays during that stretch. T-Mack with a 3 to get us back in the game. Herb, of all people, with a 17 foot jumpshot to tie it. Donta with an "And one," and finally Riley with a steal and fast break DUNK to push the Bama lead back to 6.
We were only 14 of 22 at the line, but made the big ones we needed in crunch time.
We stuck with the shorter rotation, only playing 9 guys including Galin Smith who only played 4 minutes. I still don't like some of the combinations. We played Galin and Dan together for most of those four minutes. I get that we were trying to matchup with their bigs and keep Silva under control, but without Collin Sexton on this team we really can't afford to play 3 on 5 on offense. Regardless, this shorter bench is a huge improvement overall and it seems to be working. I thought Dan did an excellent job defensively in his 10 minutes of play spelling Donta. I love his attitude and work ethic in coming back after being benched for Galin earlier in the year. I hope AJ and Alex will take note and follow Dan's example, as I have a feeling we are going to need those guys again at some point before the season is over.
Chris Silva has seemingly been at South Carolina longer than we've had Riley Norris, and I'm not sure he's moved out of the paint yet. He receives his mail in the lane, and never gets called for 3 seconds.
We had four guys in double-digits, led by Kira with 17 points. Donta had an impressive double-double against Silva with 15 points and 10 rebounds. T-Mack had 11 in front of his home crowd, and I just can't say enough about Riley Norris and how much he has helped this team the last 2 games. Riley had 11 points and 3 rebounds, but is providing great intangible leadership, playing solid defense, and making some great tips and saves that don't always show up on the stat sheet. As much as I hate to screw with the starting lineup at this point, I wish we would let him start one of the final two games at home. I think he's earned it and he seems determined to go out a winner.
Another guy who contributed in many ways that won't be evident in the box score is John Petty. JP is in a shooting slump right now, but he pulled down 10 rebounds, which is really remarkable for a 2 guard of his size against a big South Carolina team. His defense has improved tremendously, and it's been fun to watch him develop other parts of the game over the last 2 years. If he can improve his ball-handling over the off season as much as he's improved his defense and rebounding this season, he will be all conference. He did have a bad turnover late that could have put the game in jeopardy.
Speaking of turnovers, Dazon Ingram left the game early in the second half with a quad contusion. He is said to be day-to-day (aren't we all?).
It has been reported that CAJ consulted with Wimp Sanderson after the recent losing streak and decided to cut the practices down from 140 minutes to 70 in order to hopefully combat the late-season fatigue issues. Apparently Wimp used to do this as a standard course of procedure. My criticisms of Avery are well documented here, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for being open-minded enough to implement suggestions like this. Also, in going to the shorter bench, it was necessary to bench his son. While most would agree that was the right thing to do, it most certainly is not something that is easy for him to do. Much respect to Coach Johnson for making these adjustments.
March begins this weekend. Tis the most wonderful time of the year! Roll Tide.