Alabama 79, Stephen F. Austin 69: Tide tames the Lumberjacks and looks … OK

Dec 21, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Riley Norris (1) shoots the ball past Penn State Nittany Lions forward Trent Buttrick (35) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Coleman Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Riley Norris (1) shoots the ball past Penn State Nittany Lions forward Trent Buttrick (35) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Coleman Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

By Chris DePew
TideFans.com Staff
Dec. 30, 2018

Alabama out-muscled Stephen F. Austin on the glass to survive an 18-turnover night and end 2018 with a 79-69 road victory.

What did we learn today?: When the stars are away, it’s time to pray. Donta Hall and Kira Lewis played 33 and 30 minutes respectively, part of a rotation of six players that sucked up 164 of the available 200 minutes. But cold numbers lifted from a box score can’t convey the white-knuckled terror Crimson Tide fans felt when four or five reserves hit the floor together during the middle of each half. With points and possessions at a premium in the first half, Avery Johnson Jr. (1-for-4 FG, two assists, two turnovers) somehow logged eight of his 10 minutes. Galin Smith (three points, two rebounds) got seven minutes of action and the slumping Alex Reese (0-for-1, turnover) was in for five. A case can be made for a couple of minutes of spot duty to rest teammates, but having all three on the floor at once killed Bama’s momentum. The Tide figures to be underdogs in at least three of its first five SEC games, and a 2-4 minute segment each half with such an anemic lineup is an invitation to get blown out.

What was the best part of the game?: A dominating rebounding performance. By now it is news when Hall doesn’t ring up a double-double, and sure enough he had 14 rebounds to go with a dozen points and three blocks. But John Petty and Dazon Ingram offset below-average shooting nights with eight rebounds each as Bama out-rebounded the Lumberjacks 47-31, including 17 offensive boards. Rebounding and getting to the foul line is what Bama does best and it is good to see it maximizing its advantages going into the second phase of the season.

Who was the star?: With due respect to Hall’s usual excellence and Lewis’ 17 points and eight assists, Riley Norris was the one option off the bench that provided a real energy boost. After tying for the first-half scoring lead with eight points, he came back in during the closing moments when SFA had cut the lead to three points and hit Bama’s last two field goals, both critical 3-pointers, to finish with 14. Add in six rebounds over 20 minutes and it was more than he had provided in his first three games back combined.

What were the biggest concerns?: It just isn’t happening for Herbert Jones this season. After a couple of semi-hopeful performances against Penn State and Liberty, the sophomore from Greensboro turned in another clunker with three turnovers and four fouls offsetting five points in 14 minutes. That’s something you might grit your teeth and endure from the eighth or ninth man, but Jones has been a full-time starter that was expected to blossom this year. There are too many quality teams in the league to expect to stay in contention with a turnover-prone starter that can’t break 40 percent shooting.

What’s next?: A high noon showdown next Saturday against No. 16 Kentucky. The Cats and Tide tip off conference play on ESPN.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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