Alabama 83, Southern Miss 68: Tide avoids sinking to bottom of Atlantis field

Beetle Bolden had his first breakout game since transferring to Alabama, scoring 23 points on the strength of six 3-pointers as Alabama salvaged a seventh-place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis by turning back Southern Mississippi 83-68.

What did we learn today?: A little offensive poise can go a long way. Year one under Nate Oats will likely be a season-long struggle to find the right balance between playing fast and playing out of control. And it is no accident that in all three wins Bama has held the ball a little longer, made the extra pass and avoided the truly egregious turnovers. By this point in his first season, Avery Johnson had already dialed back his plans to play uptempo as it became plain the talent wasn’t available to run that system. Oats seems more willing to absorb short-term pain in order to teach his players how to thrive in the speed game – and possibly to weed out those who can’t handle the pace in order to make room for a talent upgrade in the offseason.

Friday was a good example of finding the sweet spot. The Crimson Tide collected 18 fast break points, shot nearly 54 percent from the floor and tuned USM’s 16 turnovers into 24 points. Turnovers stayed in check most of the night before a couple of garbage time breakdowns pushed Bama’s total to 15.

What was the best part of the game?: John Petty inevitably came back down to earth but he didn’t go into hiding. A day after dropping 34 points on Iowa State and two days after scoring 23 against North Carolina, Petty didn’t get many opportunities to show off his shooting touch against the Golden Eagles. But he did grab 10 points and eight rebounds with only a single turnover in 30 minutes. Being able to contribute so much on a night when he wasn’t the star hopefully will continue to rebuild his confidence.

What were the biggest concerns?: Getting demolished by North Carolina on the boards was one thing, but only managing a 31-31 tie on the glass against the lowly Golden Eagles raises many more concerns. Bama had done a good job overcoming its size disadvantages to become a good rebounding team in the opening weeks of the season, but now it is a new headache for Oats to address. And save some extra aspirin for foul shooting, a longtime nemesis that reared its ugly head again when the Tide went just 12-22 at the stripe. Watching Southern Miss trim an 18-point first-half deficit down to three by halftime did not help with the digestion of late night leftovers either.

Who was the star?: Before fouling out for the third time in five games, Bolden showed why he was a sought after graduate transfer from West Virginia. He needed just 21 minutes to collect his 23 points, and also showed a knack for getting to the foul line and converting. Hand injuries kept him from showing off his deadly outside shot before Atlantis, so hopefully this is a better sign of things to come.

What’s next?: Back to Tuscaloosa next Friday for a 7 p.m. matchup with suddenly-famous Duke slayers Stephen F. Austin. The game will stream online via SEC Network-Plus.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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