Defense Keys Bama Over Jacksonville

It wasn't a surprise that Alabama defeated Jacksonville Thursday night, but that didn't mean Crimson Tide Coach Anthony Grant didn't have a surprise for the 12,527 (the announced crowd, anyway) fans who showed up. The game marked the initial appearance of Bama's seven-foot transfer, Moussa Gueye.

Alabama didn't look like one of the nation's best defensive teams in giving up 37 first half points to Jacksonville, but the Crimson Tide came out in a zone defense and put on the stops in the second half, holding the Dolphins scoreless for over eight minutes and going on to a 72-55 victory in Coleman Coliseum.

Alabama wasn't lighting it up, but did score the first 10 points of the second half to extend a five-point halftime lead to 15 en route to the victory. Bama improved to 10-3 on the season. Jacksonville suffered its eighth consecutive loss and fell to 2-10.

The Crimson Tide heads to Georgia to start play in the new year. Bama will have a non-conference game at Georgia Tech Tuesday, Jan. 3, then open Southeastern Conference play at Georgia Saturday, Jan. 7.

The big surprise of the night was the first appearance of the year by sophomore Moussa Gueye. The 7-0, 280-pound transfer suffered an ACL injury in the summer. Earlier Alabama Coach Anthony Grant had held out hope that Gueye might play by January, but in recent days there had been indications that he might not be that far along.

There was a little stir among early arrivals for the game as Gueye took part in the shoot-around. Gueye looked rusty, but he looked like a big pile of rust in his four minutes of mop-up duty. He had one rebound and one turnover.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "Moussa really started going through practice in this past week. Prior to that he was doing conditioning. He started doing some individual work the week before, going through basketball related stuff. Our medical staff thought we could put him into the mix this week. We had two or three competitive practices and he held up well.

"The opportunity presented itself with a lead late. We asked him how he felt and he was excited to go in.

"He's been away from competitive basketball for two years. it's going to take some time. Right now our main thing is for him to get healthy and to get confident and competent.

"He has to learn our system and learn what he has to do defensively. He's just at the beginning stages of being prepared for what he needs to do."

The Tide was led by Trevor Releford with 18 points, Tony Mitchell with 17 (on just 5-13 field goal shooting), and Trevor Lacey with 11.

Delwan Graham led Jacksonville with 13 points, 11 of them in the first half, while Keith McDougald had 10 points. Graham also had 11 rebounds as Jacksonville won the battle of the boards, 35-35.

Alabama was 25-48 from the field for 52.1 per cent and held the Dolphins to 20-55 (36.4 per cent). Despite missing all four of its second half three-point tries, Alabama was 6-15 for 40 per cent. Jacksonville made only 4-13 (30.8 per cent).

Alabama had a 32-20 lead on points in the paint, even playing without top inside player JaMychal Green. Bama also had a 20-10 margin in points off turnovers and a 10-4 advantage in fast break points.

Jacksonville, which had led much of the first half, didn't get on the board after intermission until Alabama had built a 52-37 lead. Nevertheless, the Dolphins were a good opponent for Bama, aggressive in rebounding and playing a ball-hawking defense featuring a full court trap and a motion offense that produced decent shot opportunities.

Alabama built as much as a 21-point lead in the final moments.

Jacksonville took a quick 2-0 lead on nice backdoor to Glen Powell and never went away. Inside the five-minute mark of the first half the Dolphins had the lead at 28-25. Tony Mitchell's three-point basket tied it, and then Trevor Releford and Mitchell hit back-to-back treys within half a minute to give the Tide the lead for good.

Alabama scored 19 points in the first 12 minutes of the half and scored 23 in the final eight minutes to take a 42-37 lead at intermission.

Jacksonville Coach Cliff Warren said he was pleased with his team's first half play ("smart and hard"), but said the team didn't take care of the ball in the second half and didn't make open shots against the Bama zone defense. And, he said, he didn't expect Alabama to hit six three-point shots in the first half.

TIDE NOTES: JaMychal Green, Alabama's leading scorer at 15.9 points per game, was held out for the second consecutive game and third game this season. Green has been nursing a sore shoulder and had not been expected to play against Jacksonville.

Grant said, "I think JaMychal is progressing, but it's day-to-day. I think our team has responded well in games."

Alabama's starting lineup was soph Trevor Releford at point guard, junior Tony Mitchell at forward, freshmen Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey at the wings, and freshman Nick Jacobs in the post.

Alabama scored 40 or more points in the first half for the fourth time this season.

Mitchell had his 12th game in double figures this year and his 60th of his career. He passed former teammate Scenario Hillman to move into 45th place on Bama's career scoring list with 1,036 points.

Color commentator on the television broadcast was former Tide Coach Wimp Sanderson.

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