It has been a long time coming for long suffering Alabama basketball fans, but coach Nate Oats and his hoops squad delivered in his second year at the Capstone. Oats’ team beat Mississippi State by a score of 65-59 to clinch the team’s first regular season SEC crown since 2002 and the school’s ninth overall. Alabama is now 19-6 overall and 14-2 in the SEC. The Dogs fell to 13-12 and 7-9 in conference.
The fast paced, high scoring Tide had to win playing the Bulldogs style, “mucking it up” as Oats calls it. The Tide didn't shoot well, turned the ball over too much, and never looked in sync. But as the saying goes, defense travels, and that carried Bama to victory.
The game started as if the first team to 40 might be the winner. After the first eight minutes, MSU held a lead of 8-7 as neither team could do anything offensively. Jahvon Quinerly gave the team a spark, and was basically their only weapon in the first half, scoring 15 points before the break and staking the Tide to a lead of 34-21. Alabama made only 12-30 field goal attempts in the first half for 40% with 5-12 for 41% from deep, and knocked down 5-6 free throws. The Bulldogs were an even worse 9-31 for 29% including 1-6 from three point range and a putrid 2-6 on free throws.
After the break, the Tide managed to keep a 10-12 point lead for most of the period, and still led by nine at 54-45 with 6:55 left in the contest. State went on a 10-2 run to make it a one possession game at 56-53 with only 2:21 left. At that point, the Tide was 1-15 from three point range in the second half. A very unlikely suspect finally hit the team’s second of the period when James Rojas buried a corner three to make the lead six with under a minute to play. Keon Ellis hit two free throws with 30 seconds left to push the lead back to six and the Tide hit a couple more free throws as the clock ran down to win by the final score for 65-59.
In the second half, the Tide was a dismal 9-35 from the field for 25% including 2-16 from deep, but knocked down 10-11 from the free throw line to do just enough to win. The final numbers were 21-65 for 32%. 7-28 for 25% from three point land, and 15-17 for 82% from the free throw line. The team crashed the boards to the tune of 45 rebounds, had only nine assists to 14 turnovers, blocked three shots, and had 11 big steals. State heated up to 15-28 in the second half for 53% and that included missing all six three point attempts. The Bulldogs hit 8-11 second half free throws. For the game, the home team finished at 40% shooting on 24-59 with only 1-12 made three pointers and 10-17 for 59% on free throws. MSU grabbed 40 rebounds, had 10 assists, 16 turnovers, seven blocks, and five steals.
Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford were the only two Tide players in double digits with 19 and 15, respectively. Shackelford added six rebound to his 5-14 shooting day. Herbert Jones scored only two points on 1-9 shooting but had 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. Rojas had one of his better games with nine points and six rebounds in 15 minutes of action. John Petty was 2-9 from the field, 1-6 from deep, and scored nine points and had five rebounds. No other player scored more than three points.
What an ugly, ugly, game to get such a joyous result. The Tide did not play well, but they played tough and pulled out the victory. Joshua Primo has more or less disappeared over the last few games, and Ellis started in his place on Saturday. Primo played only eight minutes and scored two points. The Canadian freshman is an elite talent and needs to get himself going again for the Tide to fare well in the postseason. The brash Oats came in to Tuscaloosa saying he was going to win, and by God in his second year he is SEC regular season champs. No one thought that would be the case in December when the team sat at 4-3 with a couple of ugly losses. This isn't the ceiling for him and his team, and hopefully Tide fans have many more victories to look forward to this season and in the future.
SEC Champs, Baby!