Confession: I have a bit of a man-crush on Herb Jones. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite players, ever. This dude is out there two weeks after surgery for a broken wrist, on one arm, helping his teammates and having a huge impact in big games. He doesn't have to be playing, and probably shouldn't be playing if we're being honest, but he WANTS to play, and it's obviously inspiring his teammates as well. You might even say it was a "strong-ass" performance. (Okay, I promise I'm done making fun of L$U's shenanigans, unless we play them again in the tournament of course).
Alabama held on for an exciting 88-82 win over a top 25 ranked LSU team to improve to 14-11 (6-6). The win improves our NET ranking to 35 and revives our NCAA tournament hopes. We are now the highest ranked NET team NOT being mentioned in the prominent bracket projections. All we need is more wins, and we should be favored in most of the games remaining on our schedule.
LSU controlled the tempo early and the game got off to a slow start. The teams were even through most of the first half. We've struggled to finish the first half and start the second at times this year, but it was actually a strength in this game. We made some 3s down the stretch to take an 11 point lead into the locker room, and then picked up right where we left off in the second half.
Galin provided us with a spark early in the second half as LSU struggled to defend the pick and roll and gave up some easy dunks. LSU was not very good defensively in general. We made 4 or 5 threes from the corner because they left it wide open helping on the drive from the opposite side baseline.
I was also surprised by their decision to get back on defense rather than crash the boards on offense for most of the second half, after dominating us on the boards in Baton Rouge. They seemed more concerned with limiting our pace than playing to their strength on the glass.
We built a 15 point lead and more or less answered their runs until Kira headed to the bench with his 4th foul with about 7 minutes remaining. I thought we should have slowed things down at that point and tried to limit the number of possessions until we could get him back in at the under 4 timeout. Meanwhile LSU started to press and crash the offensive boards, and we had some bad turnovers to allow them to make a run.
It was a two possession game by the time Kira returned, and LSU had all of the momentum. It felt like if we ever relinquished the lead, it would be bad news. LSU's success in close games, and our lack thereof, to this point in the season is well documented. Shack made a huge 3 to stretch a 1 point lead back to 4 in the final minutes. And, of course, there was Herb Jones, shooting free throws using only his right hand and somehow making them both to maintain a two possession lead. He's apparently even been practicing that, and it paid off. If you've ever tried to shoot with your off hand just fooling around, you understand how amazing that feat was, particularly under those pressure circumstances. As I told my gf at the game, if I try to shoot a free throw using only my left hand, it's probably not getting within 5 feet of the rim.
Herb started and played 29 minutes, scored 6 points, had 2 blocks, a steal, and 17(!!!) rebounds against one of the best rebounding teams in the SEC. Again, literally with one arm, and not even his good arm. It was one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen, not just watching Alabama basketball, but in my entire life of watching sports. It's not Michael Jordan playing with the flu in the NBA finals, but it's pretty close.
Kira had 27 points, 4 assists, and only one turnover for the second game in a row. As noted above, I think his fourth foul was the main reason LSU was able to get back into the game. He seemed to always come up with a big basket or assist when the Tigers would try to make a run. As a team we only had 9 turnovers, though Beetle had 3 late in the game, and JP had a bad one in the back court that really hurt us down the stretch.
Shack scored 26 and went 5 of 13 from 3-point range. He's shooting with confidence, and I'd like to see him get more chances in high pressure situations. He came through big time when given the opportunity in this game. I also want to give some props to Galin Smith. The perception from most was that Davis has passed him at the 5 spot, but Galin scored 10 points in 17 mnutes, was great in the pick and roll, and somehow made 6 out of 7 free throws. He also added 6 rebounds.
We were only out-rebounded 44-42, which given their size advantage we can live with that. A lot of that was due to Herb's 17, and some of it was due to them opting not to crash the offensive boards for a significant portion of the game.
As most of you know, Wendell Hudson's jersey was retired at halftime. He is the first and only Alabama athlete, in any sport, to have his number retired, and this was long overdue in my opinion. I've had the honor of briefly meeting Wendell on a couple of occasions, and you won't find a more classy and likable person. His love for the game and for our University is evident. I was happy to see a great, near sell-out crowd on hand to show their appreciation. It included several former players, including Mikhail Torrance, Donta Hall, and Lawson Schaeffer who were also recognized during the game. Also, Coach Nick Saban and Miss Terry were present and sitting behind the basket to honor Wendell. It was good to see them there, but also notable that they were not part of the official ceremonies, they clearly didn't want to do anything to take the spotlight away from Wendell and the basketball game. Miss Terry was very much into the game, cheering on the team throughout and seemed to be having a good time. Perhaps she will drag Coach out to some more basketball games in the future? The whole crowd was in it from start to finish, the student section was awesome with several clever (but not crossing the line) chants directed toward Trendon "traitor" Watford and Will "Paid" Wade and the rest of his over-compensated roster. It was one of the most fun games I've been to at Coleman in the last decade.
Up next, Buzz Williams brings his Texas A&M Aggies into Tuscaloosa for a 6pm tipoff Wednesday night. This is a huge game,and a place where we've struggled in recent years, coming off a huge wins that bolsters our NCAA hopes. There won't be the excitement of a top 25 team, Wendell's jersey retirement, and unfortunately probably not the level of crowd support due to the start time. This team still has a lot of holes, and we'll need to bring our A-game to beat a very well coached team. It's on SEC Network if you can't get to Coleman. Roll Tide!