The Alabama Crimson Tide is off to a 2-0 start in the SEC after a thrilling 59-56 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday in frigid Tuscaloosa. ‘Bama fell behind by 14 points early in the second half, but battled back and stole the victory, improving to 9-5 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
The Tide some how pulled out the victory despite shooting 31% from the field (20-63), including 28% (7-25) from three point range and a pedestrian 66% (12-18) from the free throw line, with several of those misses the front end of one and ones. Also two starters, Donta Hall and Riley Norris both failed to score. Thirty six points off of the bench and a 50-35 rebounding edge, with 20 of those boards on the offensive end, were a big factor in the win, along with holding the normally hot shooting ‘Dores to 35% shooting overall and 38% from three point range.
Alabama fans had voiced frustration with coach Anthony Grant’s inability to have a full roster available each season, but his 11 man teams looked like an army next to the nine players that Vanderbilt carries. Former coach Kevin Stallings was known for running players off, and new coach Bryce Drew inherited a short bench in his first season.
The first half started with the Commodores hitting several early three pointers to take a lead. However the Tide turned up the defensive intensity, forcing turnovers and getting out on the fast break to take a comfortable lead. A late half collapse allowed VU to tie the game at 30 going into half time. Bola Olaniyan had the best half of his Bama career and was tied with Dazon Ingram for the team scoring lead with seven each.
Coming out of the break the Commodores promptly hit four straight three pointers to take a 12 point lead, which the stretched to 14. The Tide finally scored more than five minutes into the half when Braxton Key hit a couple of free throws. Down 14, with no semblance of offense, coach Avery Johnson inserted streak shooting Armond Davis in the game. Davis did not play at all in the last game, and his minutes have been very limited over the last month. Davis helped spark a Tide comeback, hitting a rare four point play, when he was fouled on a corner three. The JUCO transfer hit another from the other corner, on a shot that somehow banked off the top corner of the back board, and gave the team new energy. Davis lead the team in scoring with 12 points in 14 minutes.
‘Bama finally regained the lead at 51-49 on two Shannon Hale free throws, and never relinquished it again. The Tide milked a 56-51 lead for the final 4:42 of the game, with a Ingram layup and free throw being their last points of the game. VU had a chance to tie with 15 seconds left, but Collins stole the ball and ran the clock out to secure the victory.
Jimmie Taylor also came up big off the bench, playing his best ball of the season in relief of an ineffective Hall. Taylor scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Olaniyan finished with seven points and eight rebounds. Corban Collins contributed a big three pointer late in the game, and had four points and four rebounds. Hale contributed three points and three assists. Ingram notched another double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds while adding five assists. Key grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the team, while not having his shooting eye on, played a very good all around game, while playing a team leading 33 minutes. Ingram logged 31 minutes and Taylor played a season high 30.
Big seven footer Luke Kornet lead the Commodores with 15 points, 14 of which were in the first half, and 13 rebounds along with five blocked shots. High scoring Matthew Fisher-Davis was held to seven points on 2-9 shooting, one game after burning Auburn for 35 points.
The Tide is (at least temporarily!) tied for first place in the league and hosts the high flying Florida Gators on Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. CT. The game can be seen on ESPNU. Considering the weather (a couple of inches of snow and ice), school being out and a ton of people headed to Tampa, the crowd was very good. Load and enthusiastic through out the game. Johnson made sure to acknowledge the crowd after the game. In an unfortunate quirk of scheduling the Florida game comes the night after the National Championship game, again at home.