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Alabama 78, Florida Atlantic 59: Thinned-out Tide still too much for overwhelmed Owls

A pair of freshmen combined for 36 points as Alabama roared past Florida Atlantic for a 78-59 home victory.

What did we learn today?: Even with injuries and foul trouble whittling Bama’s rotation down to a bare minimum, the outlines of a coherent team started coming into focus. Kira Lewis is the unquestioned leader, confident in his shot but also a great distributor and terror on the fast break. Freshman Jaden Shackelford is a cold-blooded shooter who can make teams pay for over-committing to stopping Lewis. Alex Reese creates matchup problems as a stretch forward with a soft shooting touch and underrated tenacity on the glass. And in his first collegiate start, redshirt freshman Javian Davis was a revelation at center, hitting the glass early and often, scoring consistently from the foul line and settling into a great shooting groove after halftime and finding the holes in FAU’s tall but athletically-limited frontcourt.

That quartet of players combined for 64 of the Crimson Tide’s 78 points. Add in John Petty with nine and it covered nearly all of the scoring. With Herbert Jones resting a hyperextended elbow and Beetle Bolden and Galin Smith both fouling out after playing just 12 minutes apiece, it was up to that group to shoulder the load. Relying on just five players is a recipe for long-term disaster, but against the Owls it was more than enough. And it gives Nate Oats a clearer picture of what he can build on.

What was the best part of the game?: FAU had cut Bama’s lead down to 25-23 before Lewis sank a corner trey off a Petty assist with 4:14 left in the first half. That was the ignition point of an 18-2 run to close the half, and the Owls never cut the lead down to single digits again. Alabama got assists on 21 of its 26 baskets, including eight from Lewis and five from Petty.

Who was the star?: Davis replaced Smith in the starting lineup and it may take a crowbar to wedge him out of it anytime soon. He started the game with back-to-back assists, earned his keep with free throws and rebounds despite a cold-shooting first half, then started making the Owls look silly after intermission with sharp cuts to the basket and confident finishes. In 27 minutes he racked up 19 points and nine rebounds, just edging out Shackelford (17 points) for team scoring honors. Not counting the garbage-time parade of walk-ons, Alabama’s only second half lull came with Davis on the bench.

What were the biggest concerns?: Bama’s other two new starters has far rougher showings. Bolden only played long enough to attempt three shots, making one, and continues to have a giant wrap around his wrist whenever he isn’t on the floor. Jaylen Forbes was practically invisible, missing all four of his shots and only grabbing two rebounds in 16 minutes. He seems overwhelmed by the jump from high school to college ball, but with depth so lacking, Oats has no choice but to throw him into the mix and pray he finds his confidence.

What’s next?: The first road trip of the season is to Rhode Island for a rare Friday night contest. Tipoff is at 6:30 p.m. Central on NBC Sports Network.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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