The Crimson Tide basketball team hasn’t been great on the road this season, but went to Nashville and took a victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores by a score of 74-72 on Tuesday night. Coach Nate Oats said this week that “I don't care how good an offensive player you are, if you don't play defense you won't play,” then called on a starting group of Keon Ellis, Jaden Shackelford, JD Davison, Noah Gurley, and Charles Bediako.
The game started off with both teams ice cold. At the first media timeout, the Tide led 5-4 and the teams were a combined 2-12 from the field. Bediako got called for two quick fouls bringing James Rojas off the bench. With 13:52 left in the half, Vanderbilt led 10-5 and Bama had turned the ball over on five of their 10 possessions. Jahvon Quinerly came off the bench and after a layup the margin had been reduced to 19-16. However the turnovers continued, 12 in the half resulting in 21 Vandy points, and the Tide trailed 37-32 at the break.
At halftime, Bama was shooting 34% on 11-32 including a paltry 3-15 for 20% from deep, and made 7-8 free throws. The Commodores shot 10-25 for 40% including 5-13 for 39% from three and 12-18 from the free throw line, 67%. The free throw differential was big all game as the Tide had trouble defending without committing a foul.
The same starters came out for the second half. Bediako picked up back to back fouls less than three minutes into the half and had to come out with four. Down 42-35 with 15:52 left, the Tide started a big rally led by Quinerly. The New Jersey senior hit back to back long three point attempts to draw the Tide within two at 45-43 with 13:36 remaining. With 12:53 left Gurley made a basket, got fouled, and drained the free throw for a 46-45 lead, the first for Bama since the aforementioned score of 5-4. With 4:40 left on the clock Quinerly had led the Tide to a 66-56 lead.
That’s when the fun began. Of the next 26 points in the game 21 would be scored at the free throw line.
Wherever the Commodores were shooting from, the Tide found a way to be called for a foul. Scoring while the clock was not moving was about the only way the ‘Dores could scratch their way back in the game. And they did. Scottie Pippen Jr. managed to go the line on almost every possession. Vandy would score two or three at the line and Bama would turn the ball over on the ensuing possession. Wash, rinse, repeat. With 2:50 left this type of play had the lead down to 66-62. Bediako was fouled on a rebound and hit two big free throws for a four point lead with 2:36 on the clock. Vandy got an old fashioned three point play, their only field goal in the last 4:40, to make it 68-65 with 2:04 left.
The Tide inbounded the ball and Gurley brought it up the court, but then fumbled it out of bounds without any pressure to give Vandy a chance to tie. Fortunately, the Tide was able to get a stop and Shackelford hit a three pointer from the corner, Bama’s only field goal in the last 4:40, to make it 71-65.
VU hit 5-6 free throws after getting fouled on their next three trips down the court and all of a sudden the Tide led by only one at 71-70. Quinerly was fouled and made both for a 73-70 lead with 28 seconds still on the clock. Once again, Pippen was fouled and after he made both the margin was back to just one with 24 seconds left. While trying to move to take an inbounds pass, Darius Miles and Pippen collided and thankfully Tony Greene called the foul on Pippen. Miles made one of the two freebies.
Vanderbilt charged down the court with 4.8 seconds left and missed a bunny at the rim which Davison rebounded and was quickly covered up by two Commodore players. Instead of the foul being called the referees saw fit to call it a jump ball. Thankfully the possession arrow favored Alabama. The Tide was able to get a pass in and run the last seconds off the clock without a foul to escape the scary confines of Memorial Gym with the 74-72 victory.
The Tide shot 11-26 for 42% in the second, including 5-13 for 39% from three while making 15-17 free throws. Overall Bama shot 22-58 for 38%, 8-28 from three for 28%, and a huge 22-25 for 88% from the free throw line. The Tide had 41 rebounds, 14 on the offensive end, 13 assists, eight steals, eight blocks, and 18 assists. The home team was 9-28 for 32% in the second half, 2-8 from deep, and 15-18 on free throws. Overall the ‘Dores shot 19-53 for 36%, 7-21 from deep and made 27-36 free throws. VU corralled 37 rebounds, 12 offensive, and had 10 assists, 12 steals, three blocks and 16 turnovers. Oats said, “I am proud of the guys for fighting through some adversity and not giving up when things weren't going well” and added, “It would have been nice to get a stop without fouling them.”
Individually, Quinerly was the leading scorer with 19 points, 17 in the second half, and dished three assists, none prettier than a behind the back dime for a James Rojas layup. Gurley added 11 points with four rebounds and three big blocked shots. Davison had another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, with five assists and three steals. The freshman was sloppy with the ball in the first half and had five turnovers at the break, but none in the second half. Ellis had 10 points and eight boards, and Rojas added nine points and a ton of toughness. Pippen led all scorers with 26 points, mostly on 14-18 from the free throw line.
Oats got what he has wanted out of his players all season, effort on the defensive end and on the boards. The team does need to learn how to play that tough defense without continually fouling the opposition. The last 4:40 of the game seemed to take about 30 minutes with a whistle every five seconds. With the Tide sitting at 18-10 and 8-7 in the league, they are safely in the NCAA Tournament and will be playing for seeding the rest of the way. With three games remaining, South Carolina and Texas A&M at home and LSU on the road, 20 wins heading into the postseason is not out of the question.
South Carolina comes to Tuscaloosa Saturday for a 5 p.m. tip off in a game that will be shown on the SEC Network.