The Alabama Crimson Tide, in must-win mode the rest of the season, hosted South Carolina on Saturday night, and started the game in a big hole.
The Gamecocks jumped out to an 11-1 lead before the Tide finally scored their first field goal of the half with 14:33 left in the frame. With John Petty out with an elbow injury, Bama was playing without their leading rebounder, second leading scorer, and best three point marksman. Petty joined the MASH unit that has become the 2019-2020 Crimson Tide when he hyperextended his elbow on Tuesday night in Starkville.
With Javian Davis playing the best basketball of his career, a couple of steals and lay-ins by Kira Lewis, and some one-handed free throws by Herbert Jones, the Tide scratched and clawed their way back into the game. As a matter of fact, Bama took a 39-38 lead late in the half before ending the half behind 41-43.
The Tide shot poorly in the half, and believe it or not stayed in the game at the free throw line. Bama was 11-32 at the break for 34%, including 4-13 for 30% from deep, and 15-19 from the charity stripe for 79%. The Gamecocks shot well, 15-31 for 48%, 5-10 from deep, and 8-13 from the line in the first half.
The Tide came out in the second half and immediately took the lead on a made three-point attempt by Davis (!!). USCe then was able to regain the lead, building the margin to as many as six points over the next few minutes. Lewis and Davis continued to score and keep the Tide within striking distance. Lewis, uncharacteristically began driving the lane and actually drawing contact and foul calls. The sophomore point guard knocked down most of his free chances to keep the game close. When Alex Reese hit his first, and only, three pointer of the game Bama had a 58-56 lead around the 14 minute mark.
Galin Smith even made a basket at that point and was fouled, but — surprise! — missed the free throw. With 10:29 left, Davis hit two free throws to give Alabama a 62-61 lead, but the Cocks took the lead back on the next possession. Jaden Shackelford hit 1-2 free throws with 9:06 left for a one-point Tide lead, a lead they refreshingly never relinquished down the stretch. Jones slammed down a Lewis miss in the paint with his one good hand with 6:26 left for a 74-67 ‘Bama lead. It seemed at that point the Tide had taken control of the game. However, the Gamecocks just would not go away.
Beetle Bolden hit a three-point shot with 4:33 remaining for a 78-70 lead and the Tide seemed on their way to coasting to victory. Bama turnovers almost bit them in the butt as USCe took advantage of a couple of Tide miscues to cut the lead to 82-80 with 2:26 left in the game. The Gamecocks missed a chance to tie or take the lead and Jones was fouled with right at two minutes left. Using his one good hand, his off right hand, Jones calmly knocked down both shot for 84-80 lead, then on the next time down the court finessed a layup into the hoop with 1:26 left for the six point margin. With 1:12 left, the lead was only 86-84 and Bolden missed a jumper for the Tide, giving USCe life. Jones rebounded the potential game tying shot, and Bolden was fouled with 26 seconds left. Bolden knocked down both shots to make it 88-84 with 18 seconds left. Somehow, Jones was called for another phantom Pat Adams foul on the other end when the Gamecock player first traveled, then fell down, without being touched by Jones.
Jermaine Couisnard hit both free throws, putting the pressure on Alabama to get the ball in bounds with a three point lead and 14 seconds left. With a chance to push the lead out, Shackelford missed the front end of a one and one and the lead remained three. South Carolina got a potential game tying shot off with five seconds left, but missed and Davis rebounded. The redshirt freshman missed the first, but hit the second and the Tide had the 90-86 lead with four second left. USCe missed from long range at the buzzer and Bama had the hard fought, must win, victory, by a score of 90-86.
The Tide shot better in the second half, 13-23 for 57%, including 5-11 for 45% from deep, and hit 18-28 from the free throw line for 64%. The Gamecocks shot 17-39 for 43% in the second half, 0-4 from deep, and 9-13 from the free throw line. For the game the Tide finished 24-55 from 43%, including 9-24 for 37% from deep and 33-47(!) from the free throw line. Thats a long way from the eight free throw attempts the team had in the Arkansas loss. The Tide grabbed 44 big rebounds, with 12 being on the offensive end. Bama finished with 11 assists, 11 turnovers, three blocks, and six steals. USCe had 39 rebounds. 14 assists, nine turnovers, two blocks, and eight steals.
Individually, Lewis led the way with 25 points and six assists. Davis had his first career double-double with 20 huge points, including 11-15 from the free throw line, and 10 rebounds. Shackelford tossed in 18 points and added seven rebounds, even thought it almost seemed like he had an “off” game. The one-handed bandit, Jones, just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Reese only scored seven points, but added 10 big rebounds of his own. The Tide basically played with six players, as Smith and Jaylen Forbes combined to play only 14 minutes. Keyshawn Bryant led the Gamecocks with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
You just can't say enough about the Crimson Tide team. They can be mind-numbingly dumb one minute, and brilliant the next, but you can't ever say they give up. Down four players that would be playing big minutes today, they never gave up. When the holes they dig themselves into seem insurmountable, they toughen up and play through it. Somehow you look up and they have a chance to win the game at the end. Today they did, perhaps too many times this season they didn't, but they now are in position to try and end the regular season on a three game winning streak, which would push them to 18 wins heading into the SEC Tournament. The games remaining are Vanderbilt at home on Tuesday night, and Missouri on the road next Saturday. Win those, grab one in the tournament, and who knows? The strength of schedule and NET are attractive enough to grab an at-large bid. Hope for the best.
Alabama coach Nate Oats was called for a first-half technical with the Tide down 18-8 after continuing to complain about a ridiculous blocking call on Beetle Bolden. Kira Lewis said the team was inspired by their coach’s actions.
“It actually woke me up a lot because Coach was taking up for us because he felt like the refs missed a couple of calls,” Lewis said. “So when the ref teched him up, I was kind of like ‘OK, Coach got a tech.’ Then he started barking at Coach like, ‘Be quiet.’ I was like, ‘If Coach is going to take up for me, then I feel like as players we should take up for him.”
The Tide responded with an 11-1 run run to get back in the game and fire up the fans as well. South Carolina was whistled for six fouls in the next four minutes. Oats has drawn six technicals this season. Alabama has won all of those games.
The Vanderbilt game will be played at 7:30 p.m. CT and can be seen on the SEC Network.
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