Alabama extended the winning streak to 3 games and 5 of the last 6 with a twelve point victory over the Richmond Spiders. The Tide will take a 7-5 record into conference play.
We got off to a slow start, missing several open jumpers and allowing the Spiders to grind out a 10-5 lead going into the first media timeout. Shack came off the bench and made back to back 3s to ignite an 11-0 run, and we never trailed again.
That's not to say there were not some stressful moments. A technical foul on Coach Oats when we had a 7 point lead in the first half allowed them to close the gap before halftime. I don't know what Wimp's record is for techs in a season, but Coach Oats seems determined to give it a run. Unlike the previous ones that were seemingly used to spark the team, I don't think he intended to draw this one. He explained in remarks after the game that he thought an out-of-bounds pass was tipped and asked the official, "Can you help us on the tip? You didn't have any problem helping your partners when you went out of your area to make foul calls." Personally, I would not have called a technical foul if that's really all he said. He was not out of his coach's box, but different officials have different levels of tolerance for that sort of thing. I heard the official tell him in a subsequent conversation, "I don't dis-respect you and you're not going to dis-respect me."
It was a physical, fast-paced game that would be difficult to officiate, but I thought the crew of Doug Shows, "TV" Ted Valentine, and Ron Groover were inconsistent. There were 37 fouls called, but only two were called in the first 8 minutes of the second half. This game was a perfect example of why I'm an advocate of moving to the quarter system. Nobody wants to watch 43 free throws in a 40 minute game. Thankfully, we made 16 of our 21, and so far this has been a huge area of improvement this year.
Alabama managed to hold on to a 43-39 lead going into the half, and had another nice run in the second half to push the lead to 16. Give some credit to Richmond for continuing to fight on the road, as they were able to make it a 5 point game with about 7 minutes to play, but once again Alabama answered with some nice drives and solid free throw shooting to stretch the lead back to 15 and put it away for good. It wasn't a perfect game, but we made shots and got stops when we really need to maintain control of the game.
Davis got in early foul trouble and only played 12 minutes. Alex had a difficult time defending their big, Grant Golden, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Herb answered with a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He also had some great defensive stops as usual, and seems to be improving as he gets healthy. Kira had 17 points, largely on the dribble drive, and had 4 assists to only one turnover. JP had another outstanding game with 17 points and 6 rebounds, but he did cough up the basketball 7 times. As a team we ended up with 15 turnovers, which is still a bit too many but an improvement over some of the disasters earlier in the season. Shack dropped a career best 28 on 6 of 13 shooting and also had 8 rebounds. He also played solid defense for the most part. Beetle suffered a hip pointer on the last play of the first half but was able to return in the second.
There's a lot of buzz, and rightfully so, about the pace and the 3-point shooting, but I've also been impressed with this team's improvement in the half-court offense. The reason we've scored 90 pts+ for 3 games in a row, is because we can still score even when our opponents are able to set up their defense. Kira, especially, is taking care of the basketball and making good decisions. If we have a mismatch on the floor, we have guys that can go ISO. If they put a smaller guard on Petty, he can post them up. If they go zone, we get good spacing and ball movement to free up space. When they over-play the passing lanes we are cutting back-door. Sure, we're going to struggle against dominant post-players, we don't have a rim protector, and we don't have much depth. There will be nights when the perimeter shots aren't falling and that will be difficult to overcome, but when a couple of guys get hot, if we take care of the basketball we can hang with anyone.
I thought the crowd was really good considering it was a Sunday night in the holiday season with no students on campus and was played under a tornado watch. There were about 6,500 in attendance, and the fans really seem to appreciate this entertaining brand of basketball.
Up next, we tip-off the SEC schedule with a road trip to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators. Florida has had a bit of an up and down season so far but they were a preseason pick to contend for the SEC and will no doubt be tough on their home court. The first game of 2020 will start at 6pm Eastern Time, 5 Central, and will be televised on either ESPNU or ESPN2.
Roll Tide and Happy New Year!