Nate Oats didn’t get dealt the best hand on Monday night but proved that in basketball, as in poker, it only takes the right five to win.
Oats had to manage what was essentially an eight-man roster but got strong performances from sources both expected (Kira Lewis) and unexpected (redshirt freshman Javian Davis) to take a comfortable 78-59 win over Florida Atlantic. The victory was the first for Oats as the Alabama head coach and took at least some of the sting out of an NCAA ruling that will keep Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly from playing this season.
Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead the Crimson Tide. Freshman Jaden Shackelford added 17 points off the bench while Lewis had 16 points and eight assists.
“We needed it in a big way,” Oats said. “Javian really answered the bell. I thought he had the best week of practice and it really showed in the game.”
“I was minus-13 in our first game so I knew I had to do better,” said Davis, who was plus-13 in plus/minus statistics against FAU.
Herb Jones did not play in the game with a hyperextended elbow, leaving Alabama with an eight-man rotation. On top of that was the NCAA Committee for Legislative Relief decision that denied Quinerly the chance to play this year.
“It’s one of those things that doesn’t fit in a box,” Oats said. “There’s never been an FBI investigation with NCAA men’s basketball. I think if everyone knew what Jahvon and his family have been through, the whole story, any reasonable person would want him to play.”
“I couldn’t believe it.”
“But I thought we came out and played hard. I shuffled the lineup, just a gut feeling.”
Alabama led by as many as 25 points in the second half despite having both Beetle Bolden and Galin Smith foul out.
Alabama closed the first half on an 18-2 run to turn a two-point lead into a comfortable 43-25 advantage at intermission.
The Crimson Tide outrebounded the Owls 45-32.
“They brought the physicality to us on the glass and overpowered us,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “They kept balls alive, got offensive rebounds and sort of overpowered us.”
Alabama will play its first road game on Friday, traveling to Rhode Island.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt