Kessens Leads Tide Over North Florida

Sophomore transfer Mike Kessens scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to help his Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team stay unbeaten at home with a 76-61 win over North Florida Friday. Also in double figures for the Tide were Levi Randolph with 13, Rodney Cooper with 11, and Riley Norris with 10 points. Demarcus Daniels led North Florida with 14 points.

“They came out and really got it going early,” said Alabama Coach Anthony Grant. “I thought once we were able to settle down and get our energy, we closed the (first) half really well. In the second half, our energy was really good. With 18 assists, our ball movement, I thought the way our guys attacked was really good.

“That’s a good basketball team. They play extremely hard, and they can score the ball.”

Kessens said, “My teammates did a great job getting me the ball, and I did a good job finishing (in the first half).

“Their bigs were physical, but they didn’t really seem to want to play defense.”

Norris added, “We picked the energy up, and our effort was there. That gave us the win tonight.

“I feel like we got better from the start (of the season), and I think it showed tonight.”

“I’m assuming the rain today was from Paul “Bear” Bryant crying after that (football) game last night,” joked witty North Florida Coach Matthew Driscoll. “I jogged on Greensboro (Avenue) yesterday and there was no traffic. It’s amazing how this town supports football.”

The talk then turned to basketball. “We had three turnovers in the first 16 minutes and five in the last four (of the first half). It’s interesting to watch (Alabama’s) team on film, and see how all these pieces have come together. Anthony’s really got the guys set well going into the league.

“I hope the (game) check cashes.”

Kessens recorded his second double-double of the season. Alabama led in points in the paint (28-22), points off turnovers (23-19), and bench points (25-22).

Early in the first half, the teams went back and forth, as evidenced by seven ties and four lead changes in the first 20 minutes. Kessens had six points in the first 3:02 to keep the Tide within striking distance, but the Ospreys (7-9) continued to push the ball up court at a rapid pace to the demise of Alabama’s defense.

Alabama’s carelessness with the ball allowed UNF to go up by as many as seven points twice, the first time due an 11-0 run, and the second instance coming at the 6:35 mark, but Cooper answered with a trey. The senior hit a leaner to tie the game next and then drew a foul went to the line, and hit a pair to give his team its first lead since very early on. At the half, Alabama led 45-37 on the strength of 57.7 per cent shooting. The Tide closed with a 13-2 run, buoyed by a Riley Norris 3-pointer at the 1:25 mark, and fellow freshman Justin Coleman’s lane pull-up jumper that just beat the intermission buzzer. All nine men who played for Alabama (10-3) scored at least two points in the first stanza. Kessens had 16 points and seven boards in the first half.

The final 20 minutes saw Bama extend the lead to as many as 22 points with 5:38 left. The paid crowd of 8,821 seemed to immensely enjoy a play where Ricky Tarrant stole the ball and fed Norris for a dunk and 57-44 lead with 14:20 to go .

The Tide won the battle of the backboards, 35-26 and outshot the visitors 53 to 40 per cent from the floor. Backup guard Retin Obasohan had five boards to go with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Reserves Devin Mitchell and Dakota Slaughter got in for the last two minutes, and walk-on John Gibson got a minute himself.

The Tide is now 9-0 at home this season, and has won 13 straight at Coleman dating back to last year.

Alabama now moves to SEC play as the Tide hosts Texas A&M Tuesday. The game will tip at 8 p.m. CST and be televised by the SEC Network.

After sitting last year as a transfer from Longview, Kessens is ready for the league to start. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to playing in the SEC,” he said. “I think we did a good job getting 10 wins in the non-conference season. I think we got better every day.”


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