The hard hat, blue collar basketball that Nate Oats promised was on full display by his Crimson Tide team on Saturday night. ‘Bama went to Knoxville, and beat the 7th ranked and previously undefeated Tennessee 71-63. The Vols were poised to move into the top five until the Tide burst that balloon. UT was the second ranked defensive team in the country, allowing only 52 points a game before Saturday. The win was Alabama’s first road win over a top 10 team since 2004. The Tide improved to 7-3, 2-0 while the Vols fell to 7-1, 1-1 in conference.
>>>#BlueCollarBasketball | #RollTide pic.twitter.com/soHvhIH0sx— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) January 3, 2021
No one really gave the Tide a chance, including most of your RBR staff, but Oats and his players had different thoughts. Another different starting lineup took the floor tonight, with Oats sending out John Petty, Herbert Jones, Jordan Bruner, Josh Primo, and Jaden Shackelford. Petty was back in as a starter after his one game suspension and one game of coming off the bench.
The first half was a slugfest with neither team able to get much going offensively early. The game was low scoring with Tennessee holding a 24-23 lead with 4 minutes left in the period. When Jahvon Quinerly came off the bench, things picked up for ‘Bama — the Vols had no one that could stay in front of him and keep him out of the lane. Petty and Primo hit the only pair of three-point baskets for the team early. A late technical foul on Vols coach Rick Barnes led to the Tide taking a 31-29 lead into the locker room.
At the break, ‘Bama was shooting 12-31 for 38% including only 2-9 from deep, but hit 5-5 free throws (more about those later). Tennessee only hit only 11-34 for 32% with 2-13 (15%) from three and 5-9 from the free throw line.
The landscape of the game changed at the beginning of the second half when the Tide came out firing three-pointers and connecting on them. Jones hit one, then Petty and Primo hit two each over a two-minute span. With the shots falling, and a spirited effort on defense, ‘Bama had suddenly taken control, 48-36 with 14:59 left. Quinerly continued to drive and score, when Petty and Jones connected on an alley-oop for a 52-39 lead with 12:44 left. Fifty two was the average points Tennessee was allowing entering the game.
The Tide was coasting along with a double-digit lead for most the first 10 minutes out of the locker room. But, the Vols are simply too good of a team to stay down for long. The momentum swung when Jones had a layup blocked by the human eraser, Yves Pons. Then Alex Reese fouled a shooter on a three-pointer on the other end, giving the Vols a five-point swing in the matter of seconds. With 9:35 left the lead had shrunk to 57-51.
But this team did not let a momentum swing derail 30 minutes of hard work and solid team basketball. Petty connected from long range to get things going again, and the Tide held a 63-54 lead. However, a very Anthony Grant like four-minute scoring drought followed to allow the Vols to stay in the game. That was when the Tide’s bugaboos throughout the early season came to the rescue: Alabama’s defense and rebounding came up big, and were able to hold the larger, more physical Vols off.
With a 69-63 lead, and just 56 seconds left, all that was left was for the Tide to make some free throws....which they didn't do, missing the front-end of three straight one-and-ones. What should have given the Tide some double-digit breathing room, instead left the door open for a frantic finish.
That frenzied finale never materialized, though. As they had done all night, ‘Bama’s defense continued to put the clamps on the hated Vols, and the Tide sealed a huge 71-63 victory.
There cannot be enough said about what a big win this was for the program. Oats said that the team has bought into the fact that defense wins games. Oats went on to say that “this was the biggest win since I've been here,” and that “the game was won on defense and rebounding.”
Oats praised the teams attitude, particularly Petty, Quinerly, and Rojas who have all had the wrath of Nate over the last couple of weeks. He went on to say that Jones is the clear leader of the team. The second year coach says he feels that he has 7 to 8 starters on the team and praised young freshman Joshua Primo. “Primo just turned 18 a few days ago and we are 2-0 since then and he has played well in both games.”
And though defense does win, knocking down their shots helps a ton. This team will live and die from the perimeter. And in the second half, Bama heated up to 14-31 (45%), including a scorching 8-11 from three-point range. However, after a perfect first half at the stripe, Bama was miserable down the stretch, hitting a measly 4-12 free throws, including missing all of those front ends. For the game the Tide shot 42%, 10-20 from deep, and 9-17 from the free throw line. The team also had 43 rebounds, with 13 on the offensive boards, 12 turnovers — only two in the second half — 11 assists, five blocks, and four steals. Tennessee was 10-32 in the second half, 2-13 from deep, and 12-17 from the free throw line. The Vols finished 21-66 for 31%, 4-21 from three and 17-26 from the charity stripe. Tennessee won the boards with 46, had seven assists, nine turnovers, seven blocks, and three steals.
Petty led the way individually with 17 points on 6 of 7 shooting, including 4 of 4 from deep, added six rebounds, two assists, and strong defensive play. Quinerly continued to shine coming off the bench and had 12 points, five assists, and only two turnovers. Jones and Primo also scored in double figures with 11 each. Jones led the team with eight rebounds, and a plus/minutes of +15 and earned yet another hard hat award. Bruner had a strong game with eight points, six rebounds, and three blocked shots, and was a much needed presence down low. Shackelford finished with eight points while battling foul trouble.
What’s next for our suddenly 7-3 Crimson Tide? Well, things don't get easier. Next up are the Florida Gators, who come to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday for a 6 p.m. tipoff. The game will be shown on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
A culture change may begin with a moment, but it has to grow with each performance. Let’s keep this thing rolling folks!