Buckets poured in from every direction as Alabama ended an 11-year winless drought in Oxford with an emphatic 103-78 win at Ole Miss.
What did we learn today?: This team may fall short of the NCAA tournament again this year, but it isn’t fair to label this the “same old Bama.” The Crimson Tide can be frustrating to watch because they seem to trip over themselves just when the path ahead seems clear. But Nate Oats has already accomplished a lot in his first season. He’s taken an athletic but uneven roster that allegedly couldn’t shoot and produced the nation’s second-highest scoring team, playing at the third-fastest adjusted tempo. He completely reversed the momentum of the rivalry series with Auburn, not only blowing out the Tigers at Coleman Coliseum but taking them to overtime down on the Plains. He hasn’t had his team locked in mentally for every game, but he’s had fewer lapses in concentration over shorter stretches of the schedule than his predecessor ever pulled off, losing only three games by double digits.
And Saturday he guided the Tide past the 100-point barrier for the third time in 2019-20, matching the number of triple-digit games from the past nine seasons. It may or may not have come one game too late to rescue this season, but Bama was flying after loose balls, attacking the glass for more than its share of the limited rebounds (both teams shot over 50 percent for the game) and hitting its platonic ideal of 30 3-point attempts right on the nose, leaving plenty of other possessions for driving inside and/or getting to the foul line.
Alabama truly has an identity now, and not just a marketing slogan. It helps that there was existing talent, but Oats is still doing things with that talent that were thought to be impossible this time last year. And in years to come he won’t have a quarter of his scholarship roster missing from the start due to injuries and arbitrary transfer rulings. He won’t be trying to fit slow-footed post players from a different era and philosophy into his system. When the next frustrating loss comes, it will be helpful to remember the bigger picture.
What was the best part of the game?: Watching hot shooting become contagious. Every Tide shooter made 50 percent or more of their field goal attempts, and backup big men Javian Davis and Galin Smith – both Mississippi natives – were a combined 7-for-7. Bama was a model of consistency, going 18-for-34 in the first half and 19-for-33 in the second. Jaden Shackelford, normally a high-volume shooter, was only tied for fourth in field goal attempts with eight but still finished with 18 points. John Petty overcame a quiet start to finish with a team-high 21 points. Davis and Alex Reese also finished in double figures for Alabama.
Who was the star?: Kira Lewis already had 11 points by the time the game was eight minutes old, and as Ole Miss tried to clamp down on him he went to work racking up assists instead. He finished with 17 points and 11 assists and didn’t turn the ball over once. He even got some actual rest for once, playing just 33 minutes as the game blossomed into a rout.
What were the biggest concerns?: The Rebels played better defense against themselves than Bama managed to, turning it over 21 times. But if Ole Miss took care of the ball long enough to get a shot in the air, chances were it went through the hope. The Rebels shot 55.3 percent for the game and better than 58 percent in the second half. In the last two second halves, Alabama has given up 46 and 47 points to a pair of the weaker offenses in the SEC. That didn’t matter in Oxford because the Tide had 20 more shot attempts, but in the long run it’s a losing formula.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris