By Chris DePew
Dec. 30, 2017
Alabama opened its SEC schedule by playing hungry, desperate basketball and got rewarded with its first victory against a Top 5 team in over a decade, as the Crimson Tide pounced on No. 5 Texas A&M for a 79-57 upset at Coleman Coliseum.
What did we learn today?: There’s a path forward for this team to reach the NCAA tournament and stick around once it gets there. It will require maximum focus and effort, which Bama still has to prove it can sustain for more than a game or two at a time. It will require patience with freshman mistakes and surviving some white knuckle stretches from bench players who seem on the verge of letting the game slip away. But the Tide is at its best when it pushes the pace and generates scoring chances in transition and off turnovers before the other team can set up its defense. What it lacks in offensive efficiency it can make up for in shot volume and uncanny ability to reach the foul line, where it is showing signs of marked improvement. It certainly helped Saturday that the Aggies were missing two of their top three scorers, but Bama still had to take advantage by dictating the style of play. It refused to let A&M make the game a half-court slog and went toe-to-toe with the nation’s best team in total rebounds and defensive rebounds, winning 43-42 on the glass.
What was the best part of the game?: Taking advantage of the openings the Aggies left when they worked to shut down Collin Sexton. The freshman point guard scored the game’s first seven points and A&M quickly redoubled its efforts to stop him at all costs. But that meant opportunity for the other Tide starters and several made them pay. John Petty, Donta Hall and Dazon Ingram were a combined 18-for-30 from the floor and scored 16 or more points apiece. Petty in particular made the Aggies pay for clogging the lane by nailing five 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 18 points. And even though Sexton made just one of his last 10 field goal attempts, he still got to the line enough to finish with 16 points of his own.
Who was the star?: Hall more than held his own against A&M stars Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks. In a college season loaded with elite centers, Hall isn’t the most physically imposing or naturally gifted, but he has worked to become an expert and body positioning and understanding angles in the paint to create easy baskets. He has soft hands and the ability to run full tilt, making him lethal in transition, and he has willed himself into becoming a respectable free throw shooter. No player has improved more under Avery Johnson.
What were the biggest concerns?: The college career of Riley Norris is over all too soon. The senior from Albertville will need season-ending surgery for the hip injury that kept him out of the Crimson Tide’s first three games and limited his effectiveness through the rest of the non-conference schedule. When healthy last year, he averaged nine points and nearly four rebounds per game. He was the last man on the roster to have played under former coach Anthony Grant.
What’s next?: Alabama tries to prove that its turnaround is for real in the unfriendly confines of Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym. Tipoff from Nashville is at 6 p.m. Central time Tuesday on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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