Well, a win is a win, I guess?
That might have been the most offensive (and least actual offense) 81-point games I’ve ever seen in my life. Which, in a way, shows just how much Alabama basketball has changed since the Anthony Grant years of 55-point slugfests.
The Tide fell behind early, as a trio of turnovers and no shortage of missed shots saw them score only 2 points in the first four minutes. Juwan Gary scored those first two points, then was thrown down the the court and landed awkwardly. He missed the rest of the game with what’s likely a dislocated shoulder. Eventually, though, Josh Primo hit a nice 3-pointer to get things moving again. Following that up, Alex Reese shook off the frost and slammed home a big baseline dunk, leading to a 10-point run for the Tide that put them right back in the game.
The two teams pretty much traded the lead back and forth all the way through the rest of the half. Both Alabama and South Carolina were determined to push the tempo, and the two teams combined for 69 shots and 20 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the game. Alabama was absolutely horrendous under the basket, making only 8 out of 21, but thankfully boosted up their shooting average by hitting 6 three pointers.
Despite the lackluster efficiencies, they still scored a combined 77 points in the half as Alabama took a 3-point advantage into halftime.
The second half, astonishingly, saw even worse shooting and an uptick in both fouls and turnovers. The high pace and high rate of fouls pretty much killed all the game flow and the game pushed to well over 2 hours. Both defenses went through a stretch where it felt like they were both trying to outdo each other on selling flops to draw charges, and the referees had absolutely 0 consistency from when they called a charge to when they called a block. It honestly took a lot of the fun of viewership out of the game.
John Petty and Jahvon Quinerly pretty much carried the Tide in terms of scoring in the second half. Petty had a couple of ridiculous moonball shots early on, though he lost his aim in the final bit of the half and launched a couple of airballs. Keon Ellis had a monster dunk midway through that kept just enough energy going for Alabama to consistently hold about a 2-possession lead throughout the entire half.
Back to back threes from Quinnerly in the final 4 minutes gave Alabama an 8 point lead, but the Tide took a couple of rushed shots that allowed USC to get within a couple of points with under a minute left.
After getting fouled with under 16 seconds to play, Keon Ellis made a free throw to extend the lead to 3, and the Gamecocks missed their game-tying 3-point attempt at only 2.6 seconds. James Rojas grabbed the rebound and immediately covered up the ball like a fullback, anticipating the foul as the nearest USC defender grabbed both of his arms
Except, for some inexplicable reason, the refs decided that it was a simultaneous possession and South Carolina was awarded the jump ball. I mean... I guess I’ve seen crazier “simultaneous possessions:”
Anyway, Nate Oats was ready. Instead of playing a regular defense and giving USC a chance for a final 3-point shot to tie the game, he had all of his defenders back off to guard the 3 point arc.
Like a greedy kid finding a penny on the sidewalk, South Carolina took the inbound pass and got a freebie layup for two points, then realized the penny was actually glued to the ground and everyone was laughing at them.
They got their two points, burned 8/10ths of a second, and gave Alabama the ball back. The Tide burned another fraction of a second, made their free throws, and ended the game there.
For the game, Alabama only hit 38% of their shots and 35% from 3-point range while turning the ball over 22 times. Not great. But the defense got some turnovers, they hit just enough threes, and they knocked down 17-20 free throws, all of which let them squeak out the win.
John Petty led the team with 20 points, and even had a massive rebound-dunk to go along with his usual assortment of long range sniper shots. He also led the team with 8 rebounds and played 36 total minutes.
Quinerly had 13 points and was the only Alabama player to shoot better than 50%. He had some turnover issues, but seemed to be getting in a little bit of a rhythm shooting the ball. Josh Primo had 12 points, but 10 of those were in the first half before he totally disappeared in the second.
Herb Jones did lead the team with 7 assists, but also had 4 turnovers, 5 fouls, and hit only 1/7 shots. His back was clearly hurting, and he overall was just not very effective. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I think he’d have been better served to sit this one out to recover.
In any case, Alabama advances to 16-5 and 11-1 in the conference as they extend their lead at the top of the SEC.
The health of this team is a major concern, especially among the interior players. Herb Jones plays guard, but is more involved on the interior than most and is limited with his back. Jordan Bruner is still out with his knee surgery. Alex Reese seems to be playing limited minutes as well.
And when Juwan Gary gets his first chance to be starter at forward, he hurts his shoulder in the first couple of minutes.
With all of that, Alabama is clearly struggling to win under the basket on offense, leaving the three ball as their only real weapon. They hit enough of those (barely) to win tonight, but it was far from comfortable.
Up next is the Georgia Bulldogs, who have quietly been on a little bit of a hot streak, winning 3 straight over Ole Miss, Auburn, and Vanderbilt. They haven’t historically been a great team, but actually have the 5th best overall record in the conference.
A win over them will go a long ways toward keeping Alabama firmly in the front seat.