It has been said that the Crimson Tide basketball team doesn't play well in early tip-offs. That theory was rejected on Friday morning as the Tide came out wide awake and blew the Mississippi State Bulldogs off the court to the tune of 85-48. The Tide’s play was a thing of beauty on both ends of the court and everything would have been perfect if it hadn't been for Joshua Primo having his knee rolled up on midway through the second half. Primo’s status is not yet known, but players and coaches both seemed optimistic after the game. The Tide improved to 22-6 while the Bulldogs fell to 15-14 on the season.
The Bulldogs got a couple of hoops down low early to take a 4-3 lead, but runs of 24-8 and 21-1 by the Tide put the game away early. The nature of the game allowed coach Nate Oats to restrict the minutes of his main players, and give minutes to a lot of reserves. Eleven Tide players played double digit minutes, with Jahvon Quinerly leading the way with 22 minutes. Jordan Bruner and his aching knees saw just 12 minutes of action, and Herbert Jones played just 17 minutes.
Alabama ended up 8-24 from three point range in the first half in building a ridiculous 47-19 lead. Darius Miles and Keon Ambrose-Hylton both saw action in the half, allowing Jones, John Petty, and Jaden Shackelford to rest their legs. The Tide shot an even 50% on 18-36 shooting in the first with the 33% from three and 3-3 from the free throw line, while committing only four turnovers. Bama’s defense held MSU to 6-20 shooting in the first with 0-3 from deep and 7-11 from the free throw line.
At around the 13 minute mark of the second half the Tide momentarily got stagnant, allowing the Dogs to get the lead under 30 points. Primo’s leg got rolled on around that time, marking the only negative of the game. Jame Rojas and Keon Ellis both hit three point shots to push the lead back up and the rout continued. Quinerly was getting to the rim and finishing with ease as everything clicked for the Tide. Oats was able to clear the bench with around four minutes left and senior walk-ons Tyler Barnes scored a basket and Britton Johnson grabbed a rebound.
The Tide “cooled off” to 47% in the second half on 14-30 shooting, 5-12 from deep and all five of their free throw attempts. Overall Bama shot 32-66 for 49% with 13-36 from three and 8-8 from the free throw line. The Tide had 35 rebounds, 20 assists, only nine turnovers, seven blocks, and 11 steals. The Bulldogs shot 12-42 in the second half with only 1-16 from deep and made 4-5 free throws. The Dogs did finish with the most rebounds with 44, had eight assists, 18 turnovers, five blocks, and three steals.
Quinerly led the team with 14 points and added three assists. Shackelford had 12 points and made 3-6 three point attempts. Juwan Gary played 14 impressive minutes and scored 11 points on 4-4 shooting and 3-3 free throws. Petty hit 3-7 from three point range and finished with nine points and four boards in 19 minutes. Primo had eight points before leaving with his injury. Jones was well on his way to a triple double, but the limited minutes held him to eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists, with zero turnovers. Rojas had seven points and Ellis added seven points and six rebounds. The Tide bench scored 47 points and the team had 30 points off of Dog turnovers.
This was the best the Tide has looked in weeks. The offensive movement was an elite level, and the passes were crisp. Defensively the Tide was active, switching perfectly and having very active hands. It seemed that all the 50-50 balls seemed to go to the hustling Tide.
When questioned about the poor games played by the Tide in early games this season, Jones and Petty both said they wanted to go out and show they could play at anytime. Oats said “Herbert, JP, and (Alex) Reese, all showed great leadership, making sure their teammates were ready.” The coach went on to say that “when our defense is locked and we aren't turning the ball over, we are pretty good.” Asked about the possibility of Primo being out for a few games Oats mentioned how well Quinerly and Ellis are playing, and added that Miles could possibly see more minutes.
Duke, Virginia, and Kansas have all dropped out of their conference tournaments with a positive Covid test. Oats was asked if he had any thought of pulling out and resting for the NCAA that starts next week, he answered quickly, simply, and emphatically, “No”, and went on to say, “We want to play, the SEC has done the best job in the country of managing the situation, and I am so happy to be at Alabama were we have handled it better than anyone in the country.” Coach went on to say that the team is in a 34 person bubble in Nashville with their families staying elsewhere.
The Tide will play the winner of Tennessee and Florida at noon C.T. on Saturday, and hopefully in the championship game at noon on Sunday.