TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Sunday, the long-awaited debut of who fans consider to be Alabama basketball’s next big star finally took place.
Freshman guard J.D. Davison, who was named the state of Alabama’s Mr. Basketball while playing at Calhoun High School and was also dubbed McDonald’s All-American, saw his first action on the court in a crimson and white jersey on Sunday. While he got off to a slow start, Davison ultimately finished second on the team in points with 19.
While his debut performance might not been as quite of a highlight reel as Crimson Tide fans had been so greatly anticipating to see, Davison was quite impressive in his 37 minutes on the court. With Alabama clinging to a one-point lead over Louisiana with :29 seconds left to play, Davison recorded a layup and four free throws to score the Crimson Tide’s final six points of the game and give his team a 73-68 victory.
“Really happy with J.D.’s play, especially late in the game,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “Got the big bucket when we needed one, went to the free-throw line and went four-of-four late in the game, went seven-of-seven. People wonder about his shooting — he didn’t make a three tonight — but he’s making them in practice and he went to the free-throw line and made shots so I was happy with the way he played. I think it was really good for him, first game as a freshman walking and playing the way he played.”
While he turned the ball over seven times — something that can be attributed to his adjustment to Alabama’s fast pace of play, but nonetheless something that he can improve on his stat sheet — he made up for it with four steals on defense as well as three rebounds and three assists. In fact, Davison finished second on the team in plus/minus at +8, a stat that Oats makes note of in his analytics-driven approach to the game.
Oats wasn’t the only player impressed with Davison’s performance on Sunday. Senior guard Keon Ellis, who recorded a team-leading 21 points against the Ragin’ Cajuns, was pleased with Davison’s debut as a member of Alabama basketball.
“With him being a household name, just not being thrown off by the pressure,” Ellis said. “I’m pretty sure he’s played in environments like this — for an actual home game, it probably could’ve been a little bit different but he showed poise so we do the drill — the six-minute game every day in practice — so I think that kind of helped.
"It’s just another day so just easy free throws knocked down in the end, just play under control and get stops on defense. He wasn’t shaken by anything that happened out there so that’s good to see.”
In addition to being the push on offense that Alabama so desperately needed in the final minute of the game, one notable stat was that Davison was a perfect 7-of-7 from the free-throw line. In fact, the stat was something that the Crimson Tide did well as a whole on Sunday, shooting 27-of-33 from the charity stripe. With shots not falling on offense for a good portion of the game, the free-throw shooting was ultimately what bailed Alabama out.
It was only fitting that Davison’s free throws at the game’s conclusion where what ultimately created the separation needed for the Crimson Tide to win.
Davison no doubt has extremely high pressure placed on his shoulders from a fan base that has higher expectations for its program this season than it has in decades. While there were certainly some issues in Davison’s game that need to be resolved — such as his failure to reel in an offensive rebound or his 0-of-3 effort from beyond the arc — overall it was a solid performance for a young man who is still adjusting to the college game.
“I thought he was really good,” Oats said. “We didn’t do a good job preparing our guys to play against their ice coverage where they kinda downed the pick-and-roll and I thought for a freshman he did a really good job adjusting to it. I though late in the game he was able to beat the coverage, find the backside for some open shots. He hit some but missed some wide-open shots but he’s got a high IQ. He’s got some savvy about him.
“You saw late in the game when he scored a tough bucket he goes four-for-four at the free-throw line — we’re going to have to have him in at the end of games as good as he is, as talented as he is. […] I think it was good that he was able to be in a tight game in his first game in front of fans as a freshman and play as well as he did.”
It might be a little too early to call Davison Alabama basketball’s next ‘Captain Clutch’, but if his performance in the final minutes against Louisiana was anything to go by, he’s definitely somebody that Oats and his staff will want on the court in the final minutes of games in the Crimson Tide’s brutal non-conference schedule.
Alabama basketball opens its 2021-22 season on Tuesday, Nov. 9 inside Coleman Coliseum against Louisiana Tech. The game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. CT tip and will be broadcast on SEC Network.