👨🏻‍💻 Tsoukalas Game story: Alabama basketball avoids upset in opening-round win over Iona

Tony_Tsoukalas

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Alabama basketball nearly stumbled but found its footing in time to survive its first test in the Big Dance. After watching a slew of opening-round upsets in the NCAA tournament, the No. 2 seed Crimson Tide was able to avoid one of its own as it got past No. 15 seed Iona, 68-55, Saturday afternoon.

Playing in its first NCAA tournament game since 2018, Alabama didn’t look comfortable until late in the second half, suffering from a combination of cold shooting and sloppy play for much of the game. Following the win, senior forward Herbert Jones gave the Tide a C for overall performance and an A for effort.

“He’s generous,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said when learning of the assessment. “A C means average, and that’s definitely not our average. Again, Iona came with a great plan and did a good job.”

Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, who previously orchestrated an upset over Alabama while in charge of Providence in 1987, once again made life difficult for the Tide with an inferior Iona team. Looking to hang with Alabama, Iona tried to take the air out of the Tide’s frenetic pace by holding the ball while in possession. The strategy worked for the first half as a frustrated Alabama side headed into the break clinging to a 33-32 lead.

Alabama went on a stretch of nine straight misses from beyond the arc before Alex Reese stopped the bleeding with a 3 from the top of the arc to put the Tide up 45-42 with 10:47 to play. Two minutes later, the senior connected again from even farther out to extend Alabama’s lead to six as the Tide used a game-defining 11-0 run to finally put away the pesky Gaels.

Reese’s two 3s came on his only shots of the game. They couldn’t have counted more for the Tide.

“Those two 3s that Reese hit were like game-opening 3s,” Oats said. “I couldn’t be happier for the kid. I think he’s just had a great attitude all year. I thought he was great defensively for us. I just couldn’t be happier for Reese.”

Added Jones: “We always knew Alex was a great 3-point shooter. His percentage doesn’t show it, but we always knew how well he can shoot the ball. And we just kept telling him to be confident in his shot, and he showed up today in a big way.

With the victory, Alabama (25-6) advances to the second round where it will face No. 10 seed Maryland on Monday. If the Tide wins that game, it would make it out of the opening weekend and into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004. Iona ends its season at 12-6.

Previously known for busting brackets with Buffalo, Oats urged his players to play hard and loose in order to avoid upset. Saturday, the Tide started out a little too loose with the basketball as 10 first-half turnovers kept Iona in the game early. Two of those giveaways occurred in the final 30 seconds of the period as Iona headed into the break on a 7-0 run.

“I walked in [to the locker room] and just said we’ve got to settle down,” Oats said of his halftime speech to his players. “It just seemed to me like guys were uptight, not playing we’ve been used to them playing. We had some really dumb, carless turnovers. I didn’t want to put any extra added pressure. I felt like they were already putting way too much pressure on themselves to begin with. … We just needed to settle down, lock in and control the stuff we can control.”

Alabama was once again bailed out by its defense as its offense went missing for large stretches of the afternoon. The Tide won despite shooting just 5 of 16 from beyond the arc and 13 of 23 from the free-throw line. The Tide held a 42-26 advantage on the boards but failed to capitalize on it as it only narrowly outscored Iona 12-10 in second-chance points. Led by scrappy forwards Berrick JeanLouis and Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona tallied eight blocks.

Jones continued his hot run for Alabama, recording a game-high 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting while pulling in six rebounds. The SEC player of the year has recorded just three 20-point scoring games this season, but two of those have come in the past three games when his team has needed him the most in tournament play.

Jahvon Quinerly continued to provide a spark off the bench, scoring 11 points to record his 13th straight double-digit game. Jaden Shackelford and John Petty Jr. both chipped in with 10 points apiece to round out Alabama’s double-digit scorers.

Alabama’s 25 wins are its most since reaching that total during the 2010-11 season when it reached the final of the NIT tournament.

Petty earned Alabama’s hard-hat award, coming down with a team-high seven rebounds while playing solid defense. However, the senior showed his frustration several times as he struggled on the offensive end, shooting 3 of 13 from the floor and 3 of 8 from the foul line.

“He’s just got to settle down and quit putting pressure on himself,” Oats said. “I thought he played really hard. I mean, he won the hard hat award. He had more blue-collar points than anybody. He was all over the glass. He led us in rebounding with seven. So like he wants to win at a high level. … He’s a really talented, skilled offensive player, just let the offense come.”

Alabama’s 25 wins are its most since reaching that total during the 2010-11 season when it reached the final of the NIT tournament.
 
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aggietider

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That’s crazy Oats mentioned Reese in a positive way. Mentioned the two big 3’s. Then mentioned how he was “great defensively.” Herb knows he’s a great shooter.
And the cherry on top, Petty wins the hard hat for doing things the best that Oats places high value on.
If you love Oats as much as you say, you might agree with him a little more.
 
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tydzbk

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That’s crazy Oats mentioned Reese in a positive way. Mentioned the two big 3’s. Then mentioned how he was “great defensively.” Herb knows he’s a great shooter.
And the cherry on top, Petty wins the hard hat for doing things the best that Oats places high value on.
If you love Oats as much as you say, you might agree with him a little more.
Herb should regard anyone else on the team as a great shooter. Petty got replaced by Gary. Finally. And we immediately pushed an even game to double digits. Two bench guys got their chance late and saved us from a bad loss.
 

aggietider

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Herb should regard anyone else on the team as a great shooter. Petty got replaced by Gary. Finally. And we immediately pushed an even game to double digits. Two bench guys got their chance late and saved us from a bad loss.
I didn’t say anything Oats or Herb didn’t say. I’d say the coach of the year and the player of the year know our personnel at this point fairly well.
 

sham12

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Herb should regard anyone else on the team as a great shooter. Petty got replaced by Gary. Finally. And we immediately pushed an even game to double digits. Two bench guys got their chance late and saved us from a bad loss.

Gary definitely needs to play more. He and Quinerly provide a huge spark off the bench.
 

bamabuilt22daddy

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That’s crazy Oats mentioned Reese in a positive way. Mentioned the two big 3’s. Then mentioned how he was “great defensively.” Herb knows he’s a great shooter.
And the cherry on top, Petty wins the hard hat for doing things the best that Oats places high value on.
If you love Oats as much as you say, you might agree with him a little more.
I think hes a tremendous coach. Reese had 2 good shots that happened to have great timing for us. Hes pumping them up because now more than ever you need confidence and he knows it. I mean does anyone think herb is a great shooter? maybe good at ft's this year. but he doesn't even make 70% of his layups.
 

aggietider

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I think hes a tremendous coach. Reese had 2 good shots that happened to have great timing for us. Hes pumping them up because now more than ever you need confidence and he knows it. I mean does anyone think herb is a great shooter? maybe good at ft's this year. but he doesn't even make 70% of his layups.
I haven’t heard anyone say Herb was a great shooter. It doesn’t matter what some of them do, you won’t give them any credit.
 

bamabuilt22daddy

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I haven’t heard anyone say Herb was a great shooter. It doesn’t matter what some of them do, you won’t give them any credit.
I absolutely will. Herb plays great defense most of the time. He just shoots under 70% for layups and shouldn't take half the drives he does. He's been really good at the line. He crushed the 1st half of the year for sure which is why he won the sec accolades. Reese, no I probably won't give that much credit....but petty has been night and day better in factors of the game outside of scoring this year versus last and good defense.
 

CrmsnTusk4

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I absolutely will. Herb plays great defense most of the time. He just shoots under 70% for layups and shouldn't take half the drives he does. He's been really good at the line. He crushed the 1st half of the year for sure which is why he won the sec accolades. Reese, no I probably won't give that much credit....but petty has been night and day better in factors of the game outside of scoring this year versus last and good defense.

I'm really not trying to be an ass here. I genuinely want to know what some of you think taking the ball to the hole against guys just as big or bigger than you is such an easy thing to do? Just because a guy shoots the ball within 5 feet of the basket doesn't make it a layup. A layup is what you do in pre-game warmup or when you're just totally wide open on a fast-break.

Driving the lane against 1 or 2 guys with their hands in your face and trying to alter your shot, and playing through contact most times doesn't exactly make it easy. Has Herb missed some gimmes? Yeah, but no one in the history of basketball has ever been 100% from any spot on the floor. There are some times where I wish he'd just throw it down.