Even the most optimistic of Alabama fans had to look at Saturday night's game versus LSU with a sense of doom and gloom. Not only was the Tide having to travel to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge to face the Tigers, but they were having to do so without the services of 4 suspended starters. Despite all of the difficulties facing the Tide, and the fact that they fell to the Tigers by a score of 67-58, there is a lot to look forward to as an Alabama fan in the future. Due to the unprecented number of suspensions, the Tide had to start 4 true freshmen and a reserve junior guard who is known more for being a defensive specialist than an offensive threat.
While the Tide ended the game feeling positive about the future, they began the game looking very confused and anxious. That's understandable when you consider the fact that the most experienced player on the floor, junior point guard and defensive specialist Ben Eblen, was getting his first start of the season. Eblen was starting in place of suspended sophomore guard Trevor Releford, who, along with senior forward JaMychal Green and senior guard Andrew Steele, were suspended by head coach Anthony Grant before the game Saturday. Grant sent all 3 players back to Tuscaloosa, where they joined junior forward Tony Mitchell, who Grant suspended on Tuesday of this week. All 4 players were suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. That situation led to the bevy of new starters, all of whom had played together very little during this season. Because of that lack of chemistry and experience, the Tide found themselves facing a 31-15 deficit at the half. Coach Grant was quick to praise LSU and their play in the first half.
"I thought LSU did a very good job in the first half of being able to build the lead," Grant said. "Offensively we really struggled to have any continuity in the first half."
However, the Tide, led by freshman guard Rodney Cooper's career-high 28 points, started the second half on a 12-0 run to pull within 4 of the Tigers. Cooper was starting in place of Steele. Cooper's career night was complimented by freshman forward Nick Jacobs, who had 14 points. Freshman guard Levi Randolph led the Tide in rebounding with 5 boards as he played a guard/forward hybrid position. Coach Grant was very pleased with the way Bama, who now falls to 16-8 overall and 5-5 in Southeastern Conference play, came out and responded in the second half.
"In the second half we came out with more aggression and I thought Rodney did a great job of attacking and taking advantage of what the defense gave him tonight," Grant said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to sustain the momentum that we had and LSU had a lot to do with that."
Despite the strong freshmen performances for the Tide, LSU's strength and depth proved to be too much for Alabama. Coach Trent Johnson's Tigers, who improve to 14-10 overall and 4-6 in the SEC, were led by junior center Justin Hamilton with his 21 points and 6 rebounds. Freshman Johnny O'Bryant III had 17 points and 9 boards, while sophomore Andre Stringer contributed 15 points.
It is hard to say where the Tide goes from here. They have a huge match-up with the Florida Gators on Tuesday night at 6 pm CT. The No. 8 Gators (19-6, 7-3 SEC) are coming off losses to Kentucky and Tennessee and will be looking to get back on track against the depleted Tide. It will be interesting to see the line-up that Grant puts out on the floor. ESPN will be broadcasting the game.