The No. 4 Alabama Crimson moved to 6-0 in the SEC for the third time under Coach Nate Oats, defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores 78-66 on Tuesday night. The Tide improved to 16-2 overall, while the Commodores fell to 9-9 (2-3).
There was no way to know how the Tide would respond just two days after learning of their teammate being arrested for capital murder. But Alabama showed a lot of maturity and resolve to stake their way to a very physical win in a place that has been historically tough for the Tide to play. Memorial Gym in Nashville is an old, outdated, odd, quirky arena that teams have a hard time adjusting to — the elevated floors, the odd sightlines. It’s a strange court and one of the SEC’s more difficult places for visitors to adjust to. Still, the mature Tide took the double digit victory despite all the distractions.
The Tide’s 12-point win over Vanderbilt was Alabama’s seventh straight victory, and all seven have been by double-digits. Alabama isn’t just winning; they’re playing lights out.
Coach Oats inserted the usual starting lineup of Mark Sears, Jaden Bradley, Charles Bediako, Noah Clowney, and Brandon Miller. Bediako seemingly comes out early and scores most of his points early. Tonight he wrapped an opening layup around a dunk by Miller with a dunk of his own to give the Tide a quick 6-0 lead. Sears picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and was replaced by Jahvon Quinerly.
Those two quick early fouls seemed to off-foot him, as Sears was never able to really recover and get in the flow, having one of his least productive games of the season.
Miller nailed a long range triple for a 9-3 lead at the 16:11 mark, and Rylan Griffen followed with one of his own for a 12-3 score with 15 minutes left in the half. After more substitutions the Dores were off to an 8-0 run to cut the score to 13-11. Vandy tied he game at 19 each, and took their only, albeit brief, lead of the game at 22-21 with 8:01 remaining. Clowney made two free throws to regain the lead which the Tide never relinquished. Miller and Sears hit triples and ‘Bama was able to take a 32-26 lead into the locker room.
Bama shot 14-32 for 44% in the half, including 4-17 for 24% from three and made 4-6 free throws. The Tide had 24 rebounds with seven assists and six turnovers at the break. Miller had 12 points and seven rebounds in the first. Vanderbilt shot 10-39 for 26% including 4-19 from deep for 21% and made 2-4 from the charity stripe, with four assists and six turnovers. Jordan Wright had six points to lead the Dores.
Alabama began the second half with the same starters. Bradley made a basket in the lane to start things and Miller banged home another three pointer to push the lead to 41-28 with 18:05 left, and the Tide looked to be coasting. More magic from Miller, a Gurley three, and an 0-7 shooting by Vanderbilt gave Bama a 53-30 lead with 12:35 left in the game. The Tide appeared to think the Dores would quit, but Jerry Stackhouse’s gang has no quit in them.
Nine straight points by VU made things interesting, which became an 11-3 run and a 56-41 game with 8:01 left. During the under eight timeout Oats was hit with a technical foul and Vandy made one of the two free throws, and got the ball back. Miller made two hoops to make it 62-47 with 5:09 left, but the pesky Commodores just would not go away. An assortment of turnovers and fouls allowed the home team to close the margin to 68-62 with 45 seconds left. Miller hit 6-6 from the free throw line and Gurley hit 2-2 and added a late dunk to give the Tide the 12 point win, 78-66.
In the second stanza, the Tide shot 14-32 for 44% including 4-13 for 30% from three and made 10-11 free throws. Overall all Bama shot 28-64 for 44%, 8-30 from three for 27% and made 14-17 free throws for 82%. The Tide finished with 47 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end, 10 assists, three blocks, three steals, and 14 turnovers- breaking their string of under double digit giveaways. Miller led the way with 30 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, a steal and a block.
The likely SEC player of the year shot 10-16, 4-9 from deep, and 6-7 from the free throw line. Bradley scored an efficient 12 points on 6-9 shooting with three boards and three assists. Gurley scored 12 points in only 15 minutes with four rebounds. Clowney won another hard hat award and had seven points and eight rebounds before fouling out. Bediako had six points and seven rebounds with two blocked shots. Sears never got going and had only three points in 26 minutes with four rebounds and three assists.
Vanderbilt shot 12-34 in the second for 35%, 2-14 from three for 14% and made 14-16 free throws. Overall the Dores finished 22-73 for 30%, 6-33 for 18% from three, and made 16-20 from the line for 80%. VU had 43 rebounds, eight assists, nine turnovers, six steals, and one blocked shot. Tyri Lawrence led the way with 20 points, boosted by 11-12 shooting from the free throw line.
After the game, Oats said:
“You have to give Vandy a ton of credit, we got a big lead and they didn't give up. They always seem to do that with us.” We were up 15 on them in the tournament last year and they came back and beat us.” Adding “we need to do a better job when we get a lead.” When asked about the emotional state of the team the coach said “Sunday was rough, then we came in Monday and got focused and today they came ready to play.” Oats continued “the starters gave us a good lead, we had a little more trouble off the bench.”
The Commodores bench outscored the Tide’s bench, 41-20.
Considering the circumstances, the Tide showed remarkable resolve to play as well as they did and win by double figures. Coming off of a 40-point win, playing in a horrible gym where most teams don't play well, and the emotional toil that Sunday morning took on the players, this was an amazing performance. A let down was to be expected. But, this has the makings of a very special team that can go a long way. They can beat you in so many ways, and have a legitimate superstar in Miller.
Next up: another trip to another place where the Tide historically do not play well — Columbia, Missouri, to take on the Tigers on Saturday. The game is at 5 p.m. CT and will be shown on the SEC Network.
Mizzou had a hot start in conference play but have hit a rough patch. However, they are notoriously tough at home and have been especially rough on the visiting Tide. This will be another tough task for Alabama.
See Brandon Miller while you can!