Niceville, FL. – After finishing their home stand at 4-0, No. 23 Alabama was looking to have a strong Thanksgiving weekend in Niceville, Florida for the Emerald Coast Classic.
Things did not go that way however, and in their Black Friday clash with Ohio State, old habits came back as the Crimson Tide dropped the game 92-81. This was the first big test for Alabama, and they did fail it. Ohio State shot 54 percent from the field, and 56 percent from three, beating Alabama at their own game. The Buckeyes were lead by guards Rodd Gayle, Jr. and Bruce Thornton who combined for 52 points.
Thornton was able to attack the Crimson Tide late in the game, and got to the line five times in the second half. Alabama had 17 fouls in the second half and the depth was tested. This also gave Ohio State a lot of points that were just too easy to give them. In a game that got away from them in the second half, giving up free throws and getting into foul trouble is not how to get back in it.
The main issue for Alabama in this first game was that defense. It has often been criticized over past few seasons that defensively the team is lackluster but it picks up on offense. Alabama loves track meets, but when your not having your best night shooting, the defensive end needs to pick up some slack.
Alabama cannot expect to score over 90 points every game, especially when they play better and more complete teams. The Crimson Tide shot just 30 percent from three, which gives teams an opportunity to run at you after the rebound. The defense becomes more difficult, and Alabama could not recover from it.
The team had a few bright spots, especially on offense. Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, and Grant Nelson all scored over 15 points, and Nelson had the only three blocks of the game for Alabama. Nelson also lead the game in rebounds with six. Sears and Estrada both had four assists, and as a team Alabama only had 10.
With that loss it meant that Alabama was playing Oregon in the second round on Saturday at 3 pm. While most of the state (and country) was watching the Iron Bowl, a run and gun style of game was happening at the same time.
Alabama won the game 99-91, but lead by as many as 18 (81-63) in the second half. Both teams shot over 50 percent and Alabama flipped the script from the previous game. The team was 26/28 from the line, and more players stepped up offensively.
Four of the five starters had double-digit points, and while the depth failed against the Buckeyes, it stepped up against the Ducks. Latrell Wrightsell Jr. had an efficient nine points off the bench, and grabbed seven rebounds in the process. Alabama also had 15 assists as a team, a big uptick compared to the last game.
The biggest reason for Alabama winning this game is how they rebounded. Ohio State outrebounded Alabama by eight, but against the Ducks it was a different story. Alabama had a 40-28 advantage over Oregon on the glass, and with that the Tide were able to go out and run their style of offense.
With these two games in the Emerald Coast Classic over with, Alabama now has to focus on their next opponent, the Clemson Tigers. The Crimson Tide hope that their offense keeps up the pace and scoring, but the defense will need to step up in a big way. Clemson is currently 5-0, and while no win really stands out on their schedule, they have held opponents to under 70 points in all but one of their games.
If Ohio State and Oregon were tests number one and two, Clemson is a non-conference midterm for the team. The game is right after the Thanksgiving week, but also right before games against No. 2 Purdue, No. 8 Creighton and No. 3 Arizona. Going into a stretch like that, Alabama needs all the momentum they can get against Clemson, and that starts with a better defense.