Alabama 68, Norfolk State 49: Ready or not, here comes the SEC

In the last of its dozen non-conference games, Alabama flexed its muscles more than at any point since its exhibition game, leading by as many as 26 points en route to a 68-49 blowout over Norfolk State for the Tide’s largest margin of victory in nine wins.

What did we learn today?: Bama won’t be quite as polished as we hoped with SEC play starting next week. Shannon Hale finally saw the floor after missing three games with a medical condition, the details of which have been guarded tighter than the box office’s stash of football playoff tickets. He actually had been practicing since Monday, but the rust was clearly evident. In 11 minutes off the bench he had as many fouls (three) as field goal attempts, none of which went in. His only scoring came on two first-half free throws and those came after he took an uncomfortably long time to rise back up from being knocked down by the foul. He exited immediately afterwards and did not play again in the first half.

What was the best part of the game?: If Hale isn’t at full speed to begin conference play, there’s at least some small comfort in seeing the Tide’s patchwork solutions at the power forward spot begin to blossom. Michael Kessens got another fill-in start and responded with a game-high nine rebounds. Swingman Riley Norris just missed out on a second consecutive double-double, going off for 10 points and eight rebounds while logging the fourth-most minutes (28) of anyone for Bama. Meanwhile, the hot-and-cold 3-point shooting switched back to hot, thanks mostly to Arthur Edwards. He scored all 15 of his points on 5-for-9 shooting from behind the arc.

Who was the biggest star?: Norfolk State was the tonic for whatever caused Retin Obasohan’s mini-slump. A game-high 23 points was encouraging, but his 9-for-12 shooting from the field – everything from 3-pointers to driving layups – was the truly encouraging part. Add in four steals and it’s as good as you could hope for.

What were the biggest concerns?: Hale obviously needs to round back into form for Alabama to reach its potential in league play, but it is hard to pick nits. The Spartans were never going to be a major threat and Bama has proved about all it can from the non-league schedule.

What’s next?: Thursday night, Alabama becomes the last team to begin Southeastern Conference play when it travels to Oxford for an 8 p.m. tip on ESPNU to help the Rebels open the brand-new Pavilion at Ole Miss.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter at @TideFansChris

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