The Alabama Crimson Tide improved to 11-3 overall and 2-0 in the SEC with a road win over Florida on Wednesday night. The Gators fell to 9-4 and 0-1 in the conference. Coach Nate Oats kept the same starting lineup of Charles Bediako, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary, Jaden Shackelford, and Jahvon Quinerly. The Tide started off fast, taking a quick 7-2 lead, before Bediako was called for two quick fouls. The star of the Tennessee game, Noah Gurley, replaced Bediako and picked up two fouls of his own early on. Keon Ambrose-Hylton was called on and gave the team eight valuable minutes.
With 10 minutes left in the first half, Gurley was up to three fouls and Bediako was joined by Darius Miles with two fouls each. The Gators took advantage of free throws and poor Tide shooting- an 0-8 and 1-15 stretch by Bama- to take a 30-26 lead with 5:14 remaining. By making free throws and playing good defense, the Tide was able to go into halftime trailing only by three at 39-36. The way the half played out, it seemed as Florida should have a double digit lead.
The cold shooting Tide shot only 11-35 for 31% with 5-17 for 29% in the half, but 9-11 from the free throw line helped the team hang around. Bama had 19 rebounds, 10 on the offensive boards, in the stanza. Florida shot 50% at 13-26 in the half including 3-10 from deep and made 10-14 free throws with 20 rebounds.
As Avery Johnson used to say, it was a tale of two halves. After the break, the Tide came out on fire, using suffocating defense to get their running game rolling, going on a 22-4 run to grab a 15 point lead. Quinerly hit a three point shot to open the half and tie the game up. Ellis was inadvertently hit in the face and had to leave the game, bringing JD Davison in to the game. Davison tossed a beautiful alley-oop pass to Bediako for a dunk and a 41-39 lead that the Tide would never relinquish.
After a trip to the locker room Ellis returned with 15 minutes left. Gurley also entered at the same time and hit a long three point shot to push the Tide ahead 47-43. Ellis followed with a long range jumper of his own and the Tide was off and running. With 12 minutes left, Bama held a 60-46 lead before Florida made their first field goal of the half. Birmingham native Myreon Jones hit three shots from behind the arc in a short period of time while the Tide went cold from the field. With 6:05 left the lead was down to five at 66-61. Quinerly went to the hoop and scored on a goal tend call, followed by a beautiful steal and dunk by Ellis to push the score to 70-61. Gurley fouled out shortly after playing only six minutes and three points after his double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds last week against Tennessee.
Quinerly had two straight assists to Gary, who slashed to the basket from the corner to help close out the Gators with the 83-70 victory. The Tide improved their shooting in the second half to 18-37 for 49%, but only 4-15 from three and made 7-8 freebies. For the game, Bama shot 29-72 for 40%, 9-32 for 28% from deep, and a big 16-19 from the free throw line. The Tide grabbed 40 rebounds, including 20 on the offensive end, had 16 assists, 13 steals, five blocks, and 12 turnovers. Florida finished 22-52 for 42%, 8-23 for 35% from three, and 18-28 for 65% on free throws. The Gators also had 40 rebounds. 12 assists, five steals, seven blocks, and 20 turnovers.
Individually, Gary had 19 points on 7-11 shooting and led the team with seven rebounds. All but one of his boards came in the second half. Quinerly also had 19 points on 7-18 shooting, had five rebounds and five assists. Shackelford added 14 points while making 3-8 three point shots. Ellis won the hard hat award and scored 13 points with four rebounds, two assists, four steals, and one block. Shackelford had a +/- of + 22, the best on the team, while playing 36 minutes, meaning the Tide was outscored by nine points the four minutes he was off the floor. Bediako had a very effective night with 11 points and seven rebounds, six on the offensive end. Oats said “Charles had six offensive rebounds, and I don't think we win the game with out them.” Bama only got seven points off the bench from Gurley, Miles, Davison, and Ambros-Hylton. Miles was held out of the Tennessee game and played 13 minutes in the game.
After the game Oats said “this was a huge win, great effort in the second half, won the turnover battle, this was as good a half of defense as we have played all year.” When asked what adjustments were made at half time Oats said that “ we just picked up our effort, our offense comes around when the defense does.” Quinerly was praised for his defense and Oats emphasized that his defensive efficiency number was .84- the best on the team, followed by .82 by Ellis.
The opening stretch of the second half was the best the Tide has played since the Gonzaga game. When this team gets after it on defense good things happen. Hopefully this was a wake up call after several games of lethargic play. It was good to see Gary step up with a huge game as Gurley did last week. Quinerly and Shackelford have to score for the team to be successful and have for the most part all season. The others, Ellis, Gary. Gurley, and Davison have taken turns being the third scoring option at times. Ellis has had some huge games, and the Tide really needs him to more often, but he has also had games were he has barely scored at all. Davison has done a good job off the bench running the point when he keeps his turnovers down. His scoring needs to come around. Miles had some really nice games off the bench early on, but has not contributed much in the last few weeks.
A 2-0 start in conference with a big road win at a place that has historically been tough for the Tide to play in is outstanding. Next up is a Saturday trip to Columbia, Missouri to play the struggling (6-7) Tigers at 2:30 p.m. CT. The game can be seen on the SEC Network. The Tigers had their game tonight with Mississippi State postponed because of Covid in the Missouri program, but feel like they will have enough players available on Saturday.