LAWSON SCHAFFER, clap, clap, clap, clap, LAWSON SCHAFFER, clap, clap, clap, clap. On senior day in Tuscaloosa, a day to honor Jimmie Taylor, Corban Collins and Bola Olaniyan, a little-used sophomore walk-on, Lawson Schaffer, sparked a first half surge. But Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key were the stars, finishing off the Ole Miss Rebels by a score of 70-55. The Tide improved to 17-12 overall and 10-7 in the SEC. Mississippi dropped to 18-12 overall and 9-8 in league play.
Coach Avery Johnson shook up the starting line up, with all three seniors getting the opening game nod. The Tide started off slowly, (big surprise, uh?) and trailed with just over five minutes remaining when Schaffer made a rare appearance. The crowd favorite hit a long three-point shot and grabbed a rebound, that sparked an 11-2 run to close out the half with a 29-25 lead.
In the second half, Ingram and Key took over, leading the team to a 13-point lead. As they are wont to do, the Tide went on a five minute scoring drought allowing the Rebels to creep within five points, before a strong finish pushed the lead out to a comfortable margin.
In the first half ‘Bama once again struggled to shoot the basketball, with a 10-25 (40%) performance, including just 2-10 from three point range. Free throws continued to be a problem as well, 7-12 for 58%. Ole Miss was even worse, 9-30 for 30 % and 3-12 from three point range and 4-7 from the free throw line.
The Tide shot much better in the second half, 14-26 from 54%, 4-11 from three and 9-12 from the charity stripe, while holding Ole Miss to 10-31, 1-9 from three and 9-12 from the free throw line. For the game the ‘Bama ended up at 47% from the field, 29% from deep and 67% from the free throw line. The Rebels were held to 31% from the field, 19% from the three line and hit 68% of their 19 free throws. The Tide won the battle of the board 40-36, had 12 assists, but 18 turnovers. Taylor had three of the team’s seven blocked shots, and became the sixth player in program history to have 200 blocks over their career.
Taylor, a four year player, and Collins and Olaniyan, one-year graduate transfers, were honored pregame with plaques and recognition along with their families. After that the young guns took over. Redshirt freshman Ingram lead all scorers with 22 points and added four rebounds and two assists, while making 9-10 from the field, including both of his three point attempts. True freshman Key once again stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points (7-11 from the field, 1-3 from deep), seven rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. Olaniyan continued to do his thing, cleaning the glass to the tune of 10 rebounds, four of which were on the offensive end, and added four points. Avery Johnson, Jr. chipped in with six points, while Collins and Riley Norris had five each. Ingram and Key were a combined 16-21 from the field, but the rest of the team was 8-30, including AJJ/Collins teaming up to go 1-for-11 from the three-point line.
Norris seemed to be slowed by some sort of leg issue which limited his minutes to 17. The junior was wearing black compression hose and looked to be using some sort of hydrocollator type heating blanket on his legs during the game. Armond Davis played only nine minutes, and couldn't ever find his range.
What it means?
The win assured the Tide of the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament and a first round bye. The fans and team were hoping for the double bye, but the recent two-game losing streak knocked ‘Bama out of contention for that spot. On another note, once again the Auburn Tigers will take their rightful place on day one of the event: After three years under their savior, Bruce Pearl, the Tigers are 15-38 in SEC play. In two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Johnson has an 18-17 conference mark. Roll Tide, Buckle Up.
The Tide’s last regular season game is Saturday in Knoxville vs. the Tennessee Vols. The game will be at noon CT and will be shown on the SEC Network.