The day started with some bad news as the NCAA denied JQ's appeal and he will have to sit out the season before becoming eligible next year.
The Tide bounced back from its disappointing season opening loss with a comfortable win over Florida Atlantic. Injuries continue to leave the team short-handed as they only had a 7 man playing rotation for most of this game. Herb dressed and was a game time decision but did not play. He probably would have played some late game defensive possessions if we needed a stop in a close game, but thankfully it did not come to that.
Coach Oats mentioned in his pre-game comments that improving the defense was an emphasis following the Penn lost. He said the starting five are the guys who played the best defense in practice over the last week. That starting five was Kira, Beetle, JP, Forbes, and Davis. Davis took advantage of his starting opportunity and led all scorers with 19 points and 9 rebounds. I think he's earned another start as he showed good hands, good movement without the ball, and an ability to finish around the rim. He may not be the rim defender we are lacking on defense, and FAU wasn't particularly strong in the post, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against better competition, but that was certainly encouraging production from the five spot.
Despite some sloppy play and turnovers early, Alabama slowly built a 10 point lead before FAU was able to slow the game down a bit and start chipping away. They cut it to 3 following a technical foul on Coach Oats. The team and staff had already been warned about standing up on the sideline during the play, and Coach addressed the situation, but following a questionable foul call and an FAU layup, the official blew the whistle to issue an official coach's box warning. Coach Oats continued to argue the call and was promptly hit with the technical foul. I should note, the entire FAU bench came on to the floor thinking the original whistle for the coach's box warning was a timeout, so that should have been a technical on them as well. In fairness, it was a reasonable assumption on FAU's part as they were on a bit of a run and a timeout probably would have made sense there. In any event, the technical seemed to re-focus the squad and they finished the half on a 20-2 run that put the game out of reach.
FAU did cut the lead to 13 about midway through the second half, but within minutes Alabama responded and pushed it back over 20 and the game never really felt in doubt. Galin and Beetle are both still battling wrist injuries and both fouled out in only 11 minutes of play. Coach seems more willing to roll the dice with guys playing with four fouls than conventional wisdom would suggest. With the already short bench, Tyler Barnes got into the game with around 8 minutes remaining and a 20 point lead. He grabbed a few rebounds and gave us four minutes.
Kira had 16 points and 6 rebounds with 8 assists and only two turnovers in 37 minutes of playing time. Shack scored 17 off the bench and made 4 of 7 from three point range. Alex had 12 points with 8 rebounds. The biggest negative from my perspective was JP's six turnovers. He appeared to injure his wrist in the first half, so maybe that was the issue, but he still seems to have a high dribble and struggles to secure the ball at times. On a positive note he is playing hard and contributing in other ways with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 9 points.
Rebounding was a major concern for me entering the season, but we've won the battle of the boards in our first two games. It may be a different story when we run up against a bigger team, but I've been impressed with the effort of our smaller quicker guys going in and contributing on the glass.
They say a team reflects the personality of their head coach, and that's starting to become apparent with this group. Nate Oats is intense and passionate, and that's how the guys play. Coach Oats is constantly working the refs and aggressively coaching his guys. Shack missed an assignment on defense in the second half and Oats lit into him for an entire media timeout. When guys make a mental error, he's quick to pull them and explain things and put them back in at the next dead ball. The guys are playing with a lot of emotion. Coming off the floor during a timeout in the first half Davis flexed and yelled "Let's Go!" so loud I think people in Northport heard him. It was great to see Hawkins leading the team and crowd in "De-Fense" chants at big moments, despite him apparently not making the playing rotation. At one point Shack turned around to the crowd and yelled "Get the F*&$! UP" when we were starting one of our runs. Beetle is probably the most passionate of them all, he was sitting on the risers on the baseline with his wrist in an ice cast coaching and cheering non-stop after fouling out.
The defensive effort was better, but it also helped that FAU was horrible shooting the ball. They had at least 5 air-balls, went 5 of 28 from three point range, and a laughable 6 of 17 at the free throw line. On the other hand, we made 17 of 22 from the charity stripe. At the end of the day, it's always good to get that first win and we took care of business against a mediocre team at home.
The crowd was decent for a rainy Monday night against a C-USA team. It was a big drop-off from the Penn game, but still probably close to 6,000 or so and they were loud and supportive throughout. The student section has started doing a thing where they go crazy when our score hits exactly "69." It's stupid and immature, but somehow hilarious all at the same time.
Up next, the first true road game In Kingston, RI against the Rhode Island Rams on Friday at 7:30 EST, 6:30 Central. The game will be televised on NBCSN. If you watch hockey, you are familiar with that network, otherwise you will probably have to do a little searching to find it. I'll post a first hand report later that weekend.