Coming off a disheartening loss to Memphis on Tuesday night, most expected the 6th ranked Crimson Tide to take care of business early against Jacksonville State on Saturday night. However, the instate opponent had other ideas and battled the Alabama to the end. The Tide pulled out the victory by a score of 65-59, improving to 9-2 on the year while the Gamecocks fell to 5-6.
Coach Nate Oats used the same starting five of Keon Ellis, Jahvon Quinerly, Charles Bediako, Juwan Gary, and Jaden Shackelford that he has used for the last several games. JSU controlled the tempo from the get-go, continually taking the shot clock to the final seconds before attacking. Bama always wants to play fast and the slow down tactic has worked wonders for their opponents. Ellis found his scoring touch in the Memphis game and built on that performance in this game, hitting two early three point baskets for an 11-5 Tide lead.
Jax State battled back and controlled the last 10 minutes of the half, building a seven point lead at 20-13 with 7:47 left in the period. With 1:49 left, the Tide still trailed 28-22, but scored the last seven points of the half to take a 29-28 lead at the break. Quinerly hit a long three pointer at the buzzer to give the team the lead.
In the first half Bama shot only 9-28 for 32%, including 4-17 from three point range-23%- and hit 7-9 free throws. The ‘Cocks were 11-29 for 39%, 4-14 from deep, and 2-5 from the charity stripe. Ellis was the bulk of the offense with 14 points at intermission. Freshman JD Davison limped off the court in with a few minutes left in the half with a knee sprain.
The Tide started the same five in the second half. Ellis and Darius Miles hit early three point shots as Bama looked to put some distance between them and JSU. The Gamecocks continued being patient and running the clock down to single digits before shooting. The strategy continued to work, keeping the Tide from being able to get in a rhythm on offense. With 11:21 left, Jax State took their last lead of the night at 41-39 before the Tide took off on a 21-3 run to take a 60-44 lead.
Quinerly sparked the rally with a three pointer and several drives with finishes at the rim. With 3:30 left the Tide seemingly had a comfortable lead at 62-51. However Quinerly missed the front end of two one and ones which Jacksonville capitalized on. All of a sudden, the lead was down to 62-56 with 2:09 left. Miles steadied the ship, making two free throws and the Tide stumbled to the finish line with the six point win.
Bama improved to 14-28 shooting in the second half with 4-13 from three and 4-7 from the free throw line. For the game the team finished 23-56 for 41%, only 8-30 from three for 26%, 11-16 for 69% from the free throw line. The Tide had 41 rebounds, 15 assists, 11 turnovers, five steals, and eight blocked shots. The Gamecocks were 11-32 for 34% in the half, 4-14 from eep, and 2-5 from the line. In the game JSU shot 22-61 for 36%, 6-25 for 24% from three, and 9-16 for 56% from the free throw line. Jax State had 38 rebounds, seven assists, nine turnovers, four steals and three blocks.
Individually, Ellis led the way with 20 points on 6-12 shooting and made four of the team’s eight three pointers. Ellis added 10 rebounds, three assists, and had a plus/minus of +8. Quinerly came on late to finish with 15 points on 6-11 shooting, led the team with four assists, and had a plus/minus of +13. Miles played more minutes than usual-26:40- and made them pay with 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and a team leading plus/minus of +18. Bediako played much better than last week and won the hard hat award after having only one rebound combined in the last two games. The 7’0” Canadian had seven points, seven rebounds, two steals, and five big blocked shots. Davison played only 13 minutes and was struggling prior to his injury. The biggest shock was that the leading scorer in the SEC, Shackelford, was held scoreless on 0-6 shooting, and grabbed four rebounds in 34 minutes.
The slow pace of the Gamecocks seemed to frustrate the Tide, keeping them from getting in an offensive flow. Oats said the team survived the bad shooting night by “winning the glass and playing decent defense.” However Oats went on to say that “the guards have to get better at perimeter defense to help protect Bediako from getting in foul trouble” and that “Charles eliminated a lot of mistakes by protecting the rim, but the guards are putting him in a bad spot by getting blown by.” Coach went on the say that “we need to close, hit free throws and make stops when we need them.” Oats mentioned that with Bediako in the game the team had a 0.77% defensive efficiency and 0.99% without him.
Jacksonville State’s pace of play held the Tide to only 63 possessions and Oats likes to have somewhere around 75-79 possessions per game. Oats also made sure to say the assistant coach Antoine Pettway was absent tonight because of a medical issue and hopes to have him back by the next game. With Colorado State backing out of Tuesday night’s top 20 matchup, the Tide scrambled around and got a game scheduled with Davidson. The game will still be played in Birmingham at the new Legacy Arena at 6 p.m. and can be seen on SEC Network Plus. This will be the first CM Newton Classic. A win on Tuesday and a 10-2 record prior to conference play would probably be better than most had hoped prior to the season.