Rumbling, bumbling, stumbling was a tag line for ESPN anchor Chris Berman for a number of years. The saying can be brought out of the mothballs today to describe the Alabama Crimson Tide’s victory over Arkansas on Saturday. Twice the Tide let late double digit leads slip away, but recovered and did just enough to survive by a score of 68-67. Bama improved to 16-9 overall and 6-6 in the SEC while breaking the Hogs’ nine game winning streak, leaving Arkansas at 19-6 and 8-4 in the league.
Coach Nate Oats changed up the starting lineup, going with Keon Ellis, Jaden Shackelford, JD Davison, Noah Gurley, and Juwan Gary to begin. Gary garnered two quick fouls and ended the game playing only six minutes.
After finding their three point shooting eye on the road in the Ole Miss, game the Tide started out like the hot shooting would continue by hitting six of their first 11 attempts from deep. However, things returned back toward the norm and they missed 17 of their last 18. Ellis, Gurley, Shackelford, James Rojas, and Davison all hit early threes to build a 24-16 lead for the Tide in the first 10 minutes.
Charles Bediako hit two free throws with 8:35 left to make the score 28-18 in favor of the Tide. Bama hit the wall, and seemed to be on the wrong end of some questionable calls by the officials, and the Hogs closed the gap. At the break Alabama led 37-32 as Bediako came of the bench to score nine points. In the first half Bama shot 12-26 for 42% with 6-16 from deep for 38% while making 7-8 free throws. Arkansas was held to 31% on 11-35 and made only 1-7 from three and 9-12 free throws. Free throws and 15 Alabama turnovers help keep the Razorbacks within striking distance.
The same starters came out for the second half, but Gary’s time on the floor was curtailed quickly when he got his third foul early on. Darius Miles hit a three pointer, the team’s only make of the second half, with 14:40 left to push the Tide ahead 48-35. Arky cut the lead to 48-41 with six straight points before Davison took over for a stretch of three minutes. The freshman scored seven straight on drives to the basket and a free throw to stake the Tide to a 57-44 lead with 9:47 left on the clock.
With 7:48 remaining Alabama had a seemingly comfortable lead of 61-49. In the blink of an eye, and a flurry of Bama turnovers, the Hogs had scored 11 straight to make it 61-60 with 4:25 left. Davison made one of two free throws at the 3:23 mark for a 64-62 lead. Hog star JD Notae hit a three pointer to give Arky their first lead since late in the first half. The Tide turned to Gurley in the paint and he made a go ahead shot over Jaylin Williams. Gurley was called for a foul on the other end, and after two makes the Hogs pushed ahead 67-66 with 48 seconds left. Bama went to the well again and Gurley used some nice post moves to drop in the final points for the Tide. With 18 seconds left Arkansas had the ball with a chance to try for a last second shot and win. Notae took a wild three from the corner and the rebound was fumbled out of bounds. After a review the ball was awarded to Bama with 4.3 seconds left. Jahvon Quinerly was fouled with 3.4 seconds on the clock but missed the front end of the one and one. A half court three point attempt at the buzzer didn't have a chance and the Tide had the thrilling win.
In the second half Bama shot 12-30 for 40%, 1-13 for 7% from three, and 6-9 from the line. Overall the team was 24-56 for 43% including 7-29 for 24% from deep and 13-17 for 77% from the stripe. The Tide finished with 40 rebounds, 11 offensive, 13 assists, four steals, seven blocks, and 24 miserable turnovers. Arkansas shot 11-35 for 31% in the second including 5-14 from three and 8-12 from the line. Overall the Hogs were 22-70 for 31%, 6-21 from three for 29%, and 17-24 for 70% on free throws. Arky won the battle of the boards with 46 including an incredible 21 on the offensive end, had 11 assists, seven steals, no blocks and 16 turnovers. The Tide had an advantage of 29 bench points to eight, 14 points to six on fast breaks, and 30-20 in the paint.
Individually Davison led the way with 11 points and added four assists, four rebounds, but six big turnovers. Shackelford notched double digits with 10 points, five rebounds, and five turnovers. Gurley, he of the two huge baskets, had nine points and four rebounds. Bediako finished with the nine he scored in the first half, while Rojas added eight points and four boards. Darius Miles played 20 minutes and led the team with seven rebounds. Seven Bama players made a three point shot during the game, but none more than one. The 14-22 from deep at Ole Miss is a memory once again.
A huge win for the Tide to get back to .500 in league play. The game wasn't always pretty but a win is win, right? Arkansas played a very physical game and Bama had players hitting the floor all game, most of the time with no foul called from the contact. Oats did a good job substituting, getting valuable minutes out of 10 players. Jusaun Holt played over eight minutes in the first half, grabbing three rebounds and making a three point basket. Oddly after playing 26 minutes in the Ole Miss game Holt saw no second half action. The Hogs style limited Bediako’s minutes to 14, but he made good use of them by making 3-4 field goals and 3-4 free throws.
The Tide has six conference games remaining, three at home and three on the road, to continue to build their NCAA resume. Next up is a contest with Mississippi State on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2 or ESPNU. Bama will try to pay back the Bullies after losing in Starkville on January 15th.