Eblen Surprising UA Basketball Key

At the end of last Alabama basketball season, there was plenty of room on the Anthony Grant bandwagon. To be sure, many thought the new Crimson Tide men's basketball coach had Bama on the right track. "He just needs to get players," was a common comment following the 17-15 season.

One player Anthony Grant had brought into the Alabama program was not widely regarded as one of the type players needed to build a winner. Ben Eblen had been recruited by Grant when he was coach at Virginia Commonweath, then added to the Tide scholarship roll when Grant made the switch to Bama prior to the 2009-10 season.

Eblen played in 26 games last year, but averaged fewer than eight minutes per game. Playing behind senior star guard Mikhail Torrance, Eblen averaged just 0.7 points per game more than you did, because that was his average. A total of 18 points for the season, a high game of five points. He couldn't shoot. He hit 7-20 (35 per cent) from the field, including 1-6 (16.7 per cent) on three pointers. Even on free throws he was only 3-8 (37.5 per cent). He had 14 assists, but 12 turnovers.

Eblen, a sophomore generously listed as 6-0, 191, came to Alabama via the Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla., even though he is from Isle of Palms, S.C. And he was highly regarded, ranked 28th in the nation by Scout.com among point guards.

On Saturday night, Alabama ran its record to 13-7, including leading the Southeastern Conference with a 5-1 record, with a 70-46 win over LSU. And the play of the game was delivered by Eblen, who played 11 mintues and scored two points. He had one turnover, the ball taken away by LSU star Andre Stringer. But Eblen chased Stringr down from behind, blocked Stringer's layup, and then got the ball up court for a feed to JaMychal Green for a basket. but he followed it seconds later with a dramatic blocked shot that regained the basketball for Bama.

"That was an outstanding effort by Ben," Grant said. "Hopefully, it will begin to identify our team. He made an error on one end of the floor, and came back and made an outstanding block. I hope it becomes contagious."

The block was Eblen's first as a college player.

Eblen is one of the Tide troika making a difference off the bench. He, Senario Hillman, and Andrew Steele are often quick insertions into the game. For Eblen, it usually means going for freshman sensation Trevor Releford at point guard.

Eblen still is not a great shooter. He hit one field goal against LSU, which put him slightly over the 1,0 points per game average for the season. His best game probably was against South Carolina, only two points, but four steals in the key SEC win.

It is not the role of a point guard to score points. "His role is to make the rest of the team better," pointed out teammate Hillman.

An early assessment of Alabama, long before there were thought of the Tide being contender in the SEC, was that Eblen was a much improved player. Grant agrees.

"I think the biggest difference in Ben from last season to this season is confidence," Grant said. "That's understandable with him being a year into it. He has done a great job of doing what we need him to do."

Eblen understands the role.

"I want to come in and get quality minuts off the bnch, play tough defense, and run the offense,." he said. "That's what the coaches want."

Eblen and his teammate return to action Wednesday when the Crimson Tide hosts Mississippi State in Coleman Coliseum with a 7 p.m. tipoff. Mississippi State is coming off an upset of 24th ranked Florida and improved its record to 10-10 overall and 3-3 in SEC play.

Alabama opened SEC play on January 8 with a 75-57 win over the Bulldogs in Starkville.

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