Comeback Short For Tide Cagers
"They played like a veteran team. They were poised all the way through," said Alabama Coach Anthony Grant after a 71-67 loss in his first regular game at the helm. "Unfortunately, we not able to survive some of the runs they went on.
"For us all year, it's going to be a learning process. I thought we did some good things in the press, and I thought we were able to create the tempo we wanted."
Seven-foot center Jeff Foote (17 points) scored at will in the paint, and blocked multiple JaMychal Green shots on the other end. Several Big Red players hurt UA behind the arc, including the son of a former NBA player. That would by Ryan Wittman (23 points), whose dad Randy played at Indiana and for the Atlanta Hawks.
"With the 3-point shooters they have, and a seven-foot presence inside, it makes it tough to double-team," said Grant.
Knowing he was facing a perimeter-oriented team, Grant started Andrew Steele as a third guard along with Anthony Brock and Senario Hillman. Green and Knox started in the post. Mikhail Torrance entered as the sixth man less than three minutes in, along with Charvez Davis
Green led the Tide with 17 points and 10 boards. Torrance added 16,and Brock chipped in 15. True freshman Tony Mitchell scored a dozen off the bench and sparked the Tide at times.
Bama won the battle of the boards, 33-27. The Tide shot 46.2 percent from the field, but allowed Cornell to hit half of its 48 shots, many of them open treys. The Big Red knocked down 10-18 behind the arc, while Bama managed but a 4-11 effort. Seven missed free throws hurt Bama's chances, but both teams shot 68 per cent at the line.
Green scored the first bucket of the Grant regime with a jump-hook in the lane, the veteran Cornell team jumped out 10-2 before a Torrance runner, but the Big Red lead swelled to as much as eight at the 16:37 mark of the half, but Brock drained a pair of 3's to draw UA to within three before the teams traded turnovers for several minutes. The Big Red led 26-20 at the break. Bama had yet to shoot a free throw.
"No. 1 (Foote), he was huge," Green said. "I felt that our post men fought hard." Foote had three blocks.
Green posted his eighth career double-double, and second straight in a season opener.
Torrance started the second half, but to little avail. Cornell kept banging the boards and knocking down open looks behind the arc. Three treys and a 35-20 lead led to a Grant time out. It seemed to work, as the Tide went on a 7-0 run and missed another layup during that stretch. However, Wittman nailed a three and Bama turned it over.
"We've come a long way since last year," said Big Red coach Steve Donahue. "This year, we keep our poise."
Bama was able to narrow the gap to a single point at one point and two points on two other occasions in the second half, but couldn't get over the hump. When Cornell had to answer it did, repeatedly.
"When you've got 3-point shooters like Wittman, I felt like we needed to get matched up (man-to-man), said Grant when asked if he thought about going to a zone. "They were able to get some looks. It was the difference in the game in the second half.
"They got some open looks, and they made some contested shots. Down the stretch, when the game was on the line, they converted on six of eight possessions. Give Cornell credit. They're an extremely talented offensive team."
One positive for Bama was that it handled the ball better than when it combined for 45 turnovers in two exhibitions. Saturday, UA gave it up but 13 times, and only four in the final 20 minutes.
"We cut our turnovers, but we had some very untimely turnovers when we had some opportunities," said Grant. "That's part of the game. Some of them were unforced, but I don't think that was the difference in the game."
Bama outscored the visitors 47-45 after intermission, but to no avail. The Tide is now 77-20 all-time in season openers.
Grant and his team will be part of a doubleheader against Jackson State Tuesday with the women's team of Wendell Hudson. The ladies, who beat Tennessee Tech 73-68 to open their season Friday, will tip at 5:00 p.m., and the men will follow at 7:30. A men's ticket will get fans into both games.
"We'll try to grow and get better as a basketball team," said Grant.
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