MBB Recap | How Alex Reese’s stand-out game led to the Tide’s tenth straight SEC win

Alabama men’s basketball had its second win over LSU on Wednesday night, beating the Tigers 78-60.


CW / Lexi Hall

It was halftime in Coleman Coliseum, and Alabama was up by six points on LSU. Just a few weeks ago, when playing the same team in Baton Rouge, Alabama had left the half up by 28. But that first half back in January had seen the Alabama team go 14-19 from beyond the arc. Now they were shooting 2-9.

In the locker room, head coach Nate Oats was clear. The team would have to push hard at the top of the half to make it out of the game alive.

“At half, I just said, ‘The first four minutes are going to be huge,’” coach Nate Oats said in the postgame press conference. “I said, ‘Look we’re getting pretty good shots… just keep shooting it, we’ve got to find other ways to win the game.’ I think the guys did that. They were pretty locked in at halftime, I think that shows with the 18-4 run to start the second half.” 

When the Crimson Tide returned to the floor, it was clear that the team had taken Oats’ guidance to heart. LSU began the second half 0-8 from the floor and Alabama capitalized by scoring the opening 9 points. Right after the Tigers took a timeout to stop the opening Alabama run, senior forward Alex Reese stole a pass, then fed it down court to junior guard Keon Ellis for a ferocious dunk. 

“Reese has been working,” Oats said. “He’s been in the gym shooting… offensively he gave us 13 points, but he did a great job defensively. We’re missing Bruner [due to injury], but the way Reese has been playing these last two games, we’re not going to miss him as much. We needed Reese to play bigger minutes and he’s stepping up giving us what we need out of him.”

Reese was the leader on defense and set the tone for Alabama’s second half storm. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds, one assist, two blocks and one steal. He covered every major statistical category, but what was most important was his defense on LSU’s Trendon Watford. Reese was the primary defender on Watford for the majority of the game and held him to just 9 points, 8 off of his 17.3 average. 

“Trendon goes 3-13… I thought our guys did a really good job, especially with Herb out,” Oats said. “I think Reese and Gary did a great job [guarding him]. Reese has got size, you’ve got to keep size on Watford. [Reese] has gotten more mobile and gotten in better shape.”

The difference in effort between the two teams showed near the end of the game. After a sloppy Alabama turnover, all 5 players rushed back on defense to retake control of the ball. The steal on the defensive end of the floor led to an alley-oop dunk from sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford to Reese. This put an end to any hope of an LSU comeback. 

“Last game [against LSU] we shot the ball well, we broke the record [most threes made in one game],” Freshman forward Juwan Gary said. “We knew they were going to come out and try to contest the three. So we knew we were going to get by them and blow past them and get to the [basket]. They weren’t going to play defense the way we played defense. That’s the reason we played like that.”

At every turn during the game, Alabama had an answer for any LSU score. The Tigers were nearly outscored by double in the second half. Alabama’s desire to play until the game was out of reach became the deciding factor in the contest. 

“I thought it was a quality win [even though] we didn’t play well offensively,” Oats said. “We gotta find ways to win when we’re not hitting 23 threes. We went 6-24 from three, which is not ideal with Shackelford and Petty being two of the better shooters in the league. I thought the guys responded well.” 

In the previous three games, the Crimson Tide lacked the shooting to blow opponents out of the water like most SEC games this season. Tonight was the first victory for the Crimson Tide when the team did not shoot 30% from three point range. Alabama finished the first half 2-13 from behind the arc and showed slight improvement in the second half. The key to the win was overcoming those misses.

Alabama is now 10-0 in SEC play and 15-4 overall. The team currently sits at No. 10 in the AP Top 25 and will face its toughest SEC matchup away on Saturday against No. 12 Missouri. The combination of shooting struggles, a short week and being on the road are all stacked against Alabama. But the team has performed at their peak when the odds are against them. 

“Being a ranked team, we can’t let [shooting struggles] get to us, we just have to put our heads down and work,” Shackelford said during ESPN’s postgame interview. “I think it’s the little things we do off the court that make us so good on the court.”