Alabama didn’t play its best tonight by any stretch, but they found a way to win.
The first half was an ugly affair, ending in a 33-33 tie after Tennessee had led for most of the way. The problem keeping opponents off the offensive glass reared its ugly head yet again. Freshman center Charles Bediako was pulled early in the game following a possession where the Vols managed three consecutive boards as he stood nearly flat-footed. Keon Ambrose-Hylton didn’t have much more luck when he came into the game. It’s apparent at this point that the rebuilt frontcourt is a legitimate weakness against bigger teams, and Tennessee is every bit of that.
Noah Gurley kept the Tide in the game with a 10 point first half. There were problems everywhere else, on both ends. Jaden Shackelford’s funk continued from the three point line, JD Davison was turning the ball over too much, Jahvon Quinerly tried to do too much, and Keon Ellis still needs to touch the ball more. There is no inside presence on offense, so the guards are going to have to figure it out in the half court when teams are able to shut down the transition game and dribble drive, as the Vols were generally able to do.
Still, they rallied late in the half for the tie.
The second half got a bit chippy. Oats went nose to nose with an official with about 12 minutes to play, and the game was called quite close after that. Alabama is usually going to struggle when threes aren’t falling, and unfortunately they weren’t for most of the night. With 8 minutes to play, the Tide had made only four of their 23 three point shots (17%) and trailed by a point as a result.
The game stayed close throughout before closing out with a flourish. Jaden Shackelford finally broke through with a clutch three to tie it at 65 with two minutes to play. Gurley came up with a huge block on the other end. Shack hit a prayer in the lane, Tennessee answered with a three, and Ellis answered in turn. With 41 seconds left, the Tide led 70-68 and held on from there.
Gurley was easily the best surprise of the night. He finished the game with a double-double at 20 points and 10 rebounds on 80% shooting, including 2/4 from three. Considering the problems inside on both ends of the floor and rebounding, it’s hard to think that he won’t be the starting center for a while at least.
This game was closer than it should have been because of poor shooting by the Tide, but they got it done in what will likely remain a Q1 win all season. If nothing else, they proved that they could still win when the threes weren’t falling, and that’s a plus.