Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats had a simple challenge for Charles Bediako that led into Sunday.
The Crimson Tide needs him to rise, Oats told the college sophomore.
“I don’t think he played his best basketball,” Oats said.
Bediako hadn’t hit a double-digit score this season, and only once did he have double-digit rebound numbers. He had a few multi-block games, but overall Bediako hadn’t done anything dominant this season.
There is no better time than now to change that. No better matchup than against the top ranked team in the country.
Bediako had that opportunity in Sunday’s third-place playoff against No. 1 UNC in the Phil Knight Invitational. Alabama looked to avoid back-to-back losses after losing a game to No. 20 UConn on Friday. And when the Crimson Tide struggled and tried to win against the Tarheels in multiple overtimes, they needed someone to show up and be the hero.
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Bediako answered Oats’ call and challenge. The sophomore finished with 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks over 44 minutes as he led the No. 18 Crimson Tide to a 103-101 win.
He scored eight of his points and grabbed eight of his rebounds in overtime.
“Charles was huge,” Oats said. “We needed him.”
Bediako was vital at both ends of the floor for Alabama (6-1). His plus-minus was plus-18, the best on the team.
Bediako often found himself rubbing shoulders with UNC’s Armando Bacot, a senior who received All-NCAA tournament honors and was a finalist for National Player of the Year. It started with the first possession and when Bacot tried to back him towards the basket, Bediako defended well enough that Bacot’s shot didn’t go.
Bacot had his moments and finished the 7-on-12 shooting with 20 points and 10 rebounds and didn’t play much in the end, but Bediako could have done a lot worse in the matchup. When Bediako was out, the likes of Bacot often had more success.
“As good as Bacot is, I thought Charles neutralized him pretty well,” Oats said.
Some of Bediako’s signature moments came in overtime, beginning in the second overtime. Bediako dove on first possession, then walked down the court and grabbed a defensive rebound to hand the ball back to Alabama. He also had another dunk in the second overtime.
In the fourth overtime, Bediako put together more clutch plays. He scored to give Alabama a 100-98 lead, then later added another basket, snagged a rebound and finished with a layup to give the Crimson Tide a point in the last minute.
He then made a play at the defensive end of the floor to block a shot with nine seconds left. Originally it was classified as a goalkeeper, but was rescinded. Alabama got the ball, but the Crimson Tide turned it over immediately on the incoming pass.
Bediako had to go back to work.
He got a steal with seven seconds to go. This gave Jaden Bradley a chance to take a free throw to give Alabama a two-point lead. That ensured victory.
“I played 44 minutes for a guy who’s not used to playing 20+,” Oats said. “Staying inside for 44 minutes and not getting a foul out is probably a record for Charles.”
Consider the challenge officially accepted and officially accomplished.