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Tip-Off Classic

December 2, 2002 Columns No Comments

Recapping the Tip-Off Classic

by Phil Kasiecki

Friday night, the 24th annual Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic was played at the Springfield Civic Center near the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. It was a snowy night outside, which might have kept some fans away since the crowd had many late arrivals and the arena had its share of empty seats.

Inside the arena, a clutch three-pointer by game MVP Antoine Pettway and four free throws in the final 20 seconds helped Alabama hold off Ohio State by a score of 54-48 in an ugly game. Alabama won despite shooting just 28.1&, though both teams shot the ball very poorly in combining to shoot just under 30& for the game.

Pettway gave the Tide a spark off the bench in the first half, making both of his three-point attempts and blocking two shots despite being one of the shortest players on the floor standing just 6′ tall. He did the same in the second half, as he made plays at both ends of the floor. He was one of three Crimson Tide players to score 11 points to lead the way; Kenny Walker and Maurice Williams also had 11, with Williams handing out six assists and making three steals as well.

With star guard Brent Darby struggling (he missed all eight of his field goal attempts), Ohio State stayed close throughout thanks largely to the efforts of junior forward Zach Williams (14 points, 10 rebounds) and senior guard Sean Connolly (13 points). Williams played well at both ends of the floor save for his 6-16 shooting, while Connolly made a few clutch baskets in the second half. Alabama All-American forward Erwin Dudley was held to just 8 points on 3-12 shooting, though he hauled down 11 rebounds.

The Buckeyes played good defense, and that along with Alabama’s inability to make shots when they got good looks kept the game close. The Crimson Tide led by as many as 13, but the lead was in single digits for most of the night.

Thoughts and Observations

Injuries to sophomore guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (torn lateral meniscus in his left knee) and junior forward Shun Jenkins (broken finger in his left hand) in the final exhibition game limited Ohio State to just seven regulars, so staying with Alabama bodes well for them later in the season. Darby probably won’t have many nights like this one, Williams is solid on the post and held his own against two good post players in Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker, and Jim O’Brien is still one of the game’s better coaches. Connolly can shoot the ball well, while sophomore big man Velimir Radinovic has potential. It would not be a shock to see the Buckeyes in contention late in the Big Ten season and making some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

O’Brien talked about the team’s limited options in the postgame press conference. He noted that both Darby and Williams played their second consecutive full game, and wants to explore playing sophomores Terrance Dials and Radinovic together to see what they give him. Alabama’s depth was a factor in this game, especially with Pettway being the game’s MVP while coming off the bench.

Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried did not appear very surprised by his team’s struggles. In addition to giving a lot of credit to Ohio State’s defense, he also mentioned that the Tide did not shoot particularly well in the shoot-around earlier in the day.

The Crimson Tide look like a very strong team, and O’Brien had words of praise for them. Despite his struggles in this game, Dudley is a known quantity and much is expected of him, while Walker looks to be a fine complement as a more athletic post player. Williams ran the show like a seasoned veteran for most of the night, Pettway is a quick sparkplug off the bench, and Earnest Shelton and Terrance Meade are capable shooters. The Tide also brings some size and athleticism off the bench up front.


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