An all-around effort: Four players score double digits in men’s basketball opener

Coach Nate Oats and the Alabama Men’s Basketball team set an upbeat tone for the season on Wednesday night.

The Crimson Tide opened its season with hustle and pace, dominating the Jacksonville State Gamecocks 81 to 57.

The game was led on offense by the guard trio of senior John Petty Jr. sophomore Jahvon Quninerly and sophomore Jaden Shackelford. All three guards had at least 14 points and dominated the ball in transition. Alabama outscored Jacksonville State 19 to 6 on fast break points. 

Alabama managed to win a tough first half thanks to help from Shackelford and senior forward Herb Jones. Although Shackelford and Jones went a combined 1 of 8 in the first half shooting the ball, their 11 rebounds and two charges allowed the rest of the team to produce on the offensive end of the floor. 

“My shot wasn’t falling. I just had to do other things to help my team, doing blue-collar things,” Shackelford said. “I shot the ball well last year, but to take my game to the next level I had to get better on defense. I [also] had to get better at getting to the rim. Adding that to my game was big for tonight.” 

Oats said during the postgame press conference that the defensive effort was the key to the win.

“It’s been a huge point of emphasis since the spring,” Oats said. “When we weren’t allowed to meet with our guys, we went through defensive concepts over Zoom. Starting way back in the summer, we’ve been [practicing it] it. I think you saw it, you saw Shackelford’s effort. I think his defense was great, he took the charge on the ball. I think [Jones] is one of the top five defenders in the country, if not the best.” 

Jones won Oats’ infamous hardhat award, which is given to the player with the most “blue-collar” points. Blue-collar points are parts of the game that do not show up on the main stat sheet like hustle, diving for the ball, charges and transition defense. According to Oats, the team put up the most blue-collar points (151.5) since Oats took over as head coach in March of 2019. 

“I thought the blue-collar stuff [is what won us the game],” Oats said. “We shot 22% from three and still put up 81. We’re going to shoot better than that through the rest of the season.”

Oats said the team’s struggles during the first half were mainly due to rust that an offseason brings. Oats said he was proud of the effort the team gave, because they didn’t let the flow of the game dictate how hard they tried. The big contributor to that was junior forward James Rojas.

“The biggest thing [Rojas] provides is toughness,” Oats said. “It gives us some physicality, he’s a skilled guy. He’s a guy who won’t show up on the stat sheet, he’ll show up more with blue-collar points.”

The biggest challenge that the Gamecocks brought against Alabama was the size on the interior. Oats said that the forwards and centers for the Crimson Tide did a good job controlling the paint and keeping Jacksonville State’s big men outside the paint. 

“I thought we struggled a little bit, we’re still getting used to the pace of the game,” Oats said. “I think Reese was 0-4 and [Jordan] Bruner was 2-3. I like our rotation, I like our depth. [Jacksonville State] is a team that tries to pound it in, and [their big men] only had 10 points combined. I thought we had a good presence.”

One of the big questions going into tonight’s game was whether or not Quinerly could adequately replace now NBA first-round pick Kira Lewis Jr. Quinerly was able to score at a high volume, leading the team with Shackelford with 18 points. Oats said that he was glad Quinerly had such a productive offensive night.

“I was really proud of him. I thought he took what the defense gave him, he took it to the paint he shot the three,” Oats said. “As far as what he gave us, we really struggled and he was able to keep us in that first half.” 

Quinerly played the first significant minutes of his college career tonight. He had to sit out last season because the NCAA ruled he was not eligible after his transfer from Villanova. Quinerly also celebrated his birthday today and mentioned that No. 22 was the best he’s ever had. 

“I had my family and my little brother in the stands,” Quinerly said. “Words can’t really explain, it was an unbelievable feeling.”

But Quinerly did get some criticism after the victory.

“I feel like I played well, I feel like as a team we could’ve played a lot better,” Quinerly said. “It was good for our team and the freshmen to get the jitters out. It’s going to be good to go over the game in film tomorrow and get better.”

Alabama is now on to preparing for the Maui Invitational. The team is set to play Stanford in the first game and then top-ranked North Carolina. Times and TV schedules have yet to be announced.