The 8th ranked Crimson Tide opened SEC play with a road win at 21st ranked Mississippi State on Wednesday night. Bama gutted out a 78-67 victory in a tough, knockdown-dragout battle. Bama improved to 11-2 overall and 1-0 in conference, State is now 11-2 and 0-1.
Coach Nate Oats continued with the starting lineup of Brandon Miller, Mark Sears, Charles Bediako, Noah Clowney, and Jaden Bradley. Sears opened the scoring with an early basket, followed by a Bediako hoop and a Clowney free throw. The Tide led 5-2 at the 16:16 mark. With 12:42 left Bama was behind 7-5 as the Bulldogs were allowed to play extremely physical by Doug Shows and crew without repercussions. The pushing, shoving, and holding threw the Tide off stride.
Miller nailed a three point shot for an 8-7 margin, but with 12:09 left the Tide trailed 10-8 as neither team could get any rhythm. State’s biggest problem was inability to make free throws. Sears finally got Bama in double digits by making 2-2 free throws with 9:39 left and followed up with a three pointer of his own for a 13-10 lead at 7:54 on the clock. Miller made another long range shot and followed with a smooth hoop in the lane. Nick Pringle continued his emergence with two dunks and a 22-17 lead with 5:13 left.
Shows made sure he got his TV time, calling Miller for his third foul on a questionable call with just over five minutes left, forcing Oats to take Miller out for the remainder of the half. Jahvon Quinerly hit a long three pointer, then quickly was called for his 2nd and 3rd fouls. With 45 seconds left Bradley made an old fashioned three point play to put the Tide up 34-27. With the ball and a chance for a last shot Bama had a bad turnover and State hit a falling down, step back, three at the buzzer to make the score 34-30 at the break. State, an especially awful shooting team from three, hit 7-15 in the half. The makes included a bank in, and three more that literally were just thrown up as a hope and prayer.
In the half the Tide shot 12-29 for 41%, including 4-15 for 27% from three and made 6-8 free throws. MSU shot 9-28 overall for 32%. 7-15 for 47% from deep and an awful 5-16 from the free throw line. The Dogs held a 22-21 rebounding edge at the break. Bama had 16 points in the paint while State had two.
The Tide kept the same starters for the second stanza. State threw up another prayer that was answered to open the half to cut the lead to 34-33. Bediako picked up his third foul quickly in the period. Clowney made a three and added two free throws and Bama stretched it out to 44-35 with 16:27 left. With 13:37 left the Tide had built a lead of 50-37, and at that point the Dogs were 8-25 from the free throw line.
Oats took Miller out with 14 minutes left for a two minute rest and the star freshman did a great job in never picking up his fourth foul. State cut the lead to seven at 55-48 but Miller squelched that rally with a sniper three from long range. From there the Tide built up to a 15 point lead and never let the Bulldogs get closer than 11 the rest of the way.
In the second half the Tide shot an even 50% at 14-28 with 8-17 from deep and 8-10 from the line. Overall Bama shot 26-57 for 46%, 12-32 from three for 38%, and 14-18 for 78% from the line. The Tide had 41 rebounds, 17 assists, four blocks, six steals, and 19 big turnovers. Individually Sears tallied 20 points on 5-11 shooting, 4-8 from three, with three assists, two rebounds, and two steals. Miller played 30 minutes despite is foul trouble and had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 7-15 overall and 5-10 from deep. Miller added three pretty passes for assists. Clowney added 12 points and eight rebounds with two assists, a block, and a steal. Pringle continued to make his case for more minutes by scoring 10 tough points on 4-4 shooting with four rebounds. With Bediako in foul trouble and Noah Gurley basically ineffective tonight it was big of Pringle to step up like he did last Tuesday against Jackson State.
Bradley led the team with seven assists and added seven points and three boards. Dom Welch saw his first action of the season and didn't score in his 10 minutes. With Nimari Burnett out for a while Welch will be a big addition to the rotation. Darius Miles did not travel due to a personal issue according to reports. Miller was both the player of the game and the blue collar player of the game.
State shot 11-27 for 40% in the second half with 2-9 from three and 13-20 from the charity stripe. Overall the Dogs finished 20-55 for 36%, 9-24 for 38% from deep and an awful 18-36 from the free throw line. The Dogs finished with 38 rebounds, 14 assists, three blocks, nine steals, and 15 turnovers. DJ Jeffries led the team with 11 points and 15 rebounds.
The Tide showed a lot of toughness and poise to win in a hostile environment. State muddied up the game making it hard to play as fast as Bama aspires to. The team fought through foul trouble to take the impressive victory. MSU isn't as good as their record indicates but they are a tough defensive team that had not given up more than 66 points in any one game until tonight. Miller keeps showing he is in consideration as the best PLAYER in the country, not just the best freshman. Sears is a tough, gritty, player. Bradley is showing he is a top flight point guard and Clowney is a top 10 freshman with his play so far. The Tide is deep and even with one to three players missing time at any one time they have managed to play well.
A road win over a top 20ish team is a great way to open SEC play. Kentucky and Arkansas both lost on the road to open conference play. Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, (and maybe) Auburn look to be the class of the league at this early juncture. The tough preseason slate that Oats put together will pay off in conference play, as it did tonight.
Next up for Bama are the Ole Miss Rebels at home on Tuesday, January 3rd. Yet another 8 p.m. CT tip fo the Tide in a game that will be shown on the SEC Network. Ole Miss lost a close game to Tennessee in Oxford on Wednesday night, and will host the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday.
Roll Tide! #BlueCollarBasketball