The Alabama Crimson Tide were ranked number one for the first time in 20 years when the polls came out on Monday. Just like the 2002-2003 squad, the team lost their next game. This year’s squad went to Knoxville and lost a rock fight to the Vols by a score of 68-59. Bama fell to 22-4 overall and 12-1 in the league while UT improved to 20-7 and 9-4. The Vols had lost their last two games on three pointers at the buzzer to Vanderbilt and Missouri. The home team was by far the more physical team in the game and used that to their advantage, helping force 19 big turnovers by the Tide. Tennessee has the number one defense in the country while the Tide has the fifth best, ranked by KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency.
Coach Nate Oats stayed with the same starting line up of Jaden Bradley, Mark Sears, Charles Bediako, Noah Clowney, and Brandon Miller. Bediako was questionable after suffering a knee injury on Saturday when the Tide plays Auburn, but still answered the bell.
The game started off with neither team able to get much of anything going offensively. The Vols did everything they could to chase the Tide off the three point line and their strategy worked. At the under 16 timeout UT led the game 8-7. When Miller scored a basket with 13:44 left in the half the Tide had their first, and only, lead of the game at 12-11.
Bama continued to turn the ball over, several times by not being able to inbounds the ball under their own basket. Jahvon Quinerly was tasked with throwing the ball in but had trouble with Tennessee’s size guarding him and threw the ball away on multiple occasions. Noah Gurley hit a three pointer with 5:49 left to cut the deficit to 19-18, but the Vols then scored seven straight points to push the margin back out. Miller and Bradley were able to hit some free throws down the stretch and somehow the game was tied at the half 29-29. The Tide had 12 turnovers, shot only 9-21 from the field, 3-10 from three point range, and 8-11 at the free throw line. Tennessee used volume, hoisting up 37 shots and making 11. The Vols were 4-13 from deep and 3-7 from the line. Tennessee scored 17 points off of Bama turnovers and had nine offensive boards.
The Tide used the same starters for the second half. Tennessee scored the first four points of the stanza to take control. With the pace of play and Tide turnovers possessions were at a premium. Miller hit two three point shots around a make from deep by Nimari Burnett to tie the game at 40 with 14:05 left. The Vols then went on a 7-0 run and Bama was battling uphill the rest of the game.
An 11-3 Vol run and some questionable charge calls on the Tide kept the home team out in front the rest of the way. Burnett hit a three to cut it to 56-50 at the 4:50 mark, and Bradley made two with 3:32 left to make the deficit 58-54. Some inopportune turnovers torpedoed the Tide’s chance to make a run at the end. Once Bama had to start fouling the Vols hit enough of their freebies to win the game 68-59.
In the second half Bama shot only 8-27 for 29% but did hit 6-14 from deep for 43% while making 8-9 free throws. Overall, the Tide shot a weak 17-48 for 35%, 9-24 for 38% from behind the arc, and 16-20 for 80% at the line. The team had 43 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks, three steals, and 19 huge turnovers. Miller led the way with another double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. Bradley had 14 points by making 10-14 free throws and added four assists. Burnett hit 3-4 three pointers and scored 11 points. Clowney had only seven points but pulled down 11 rebounds. Bediako had four points and five rebounds, but no one else had more than three points. Sears was invisible all night and only notched two points. Rylan Griffen had been the teams hottest shooter over the last several games but had a goose egg tonight in 11 minutes of play. Quinerly had probably his worst game in a Bama uniform with three points, three assists, three rebounds, and six turnovers in 17 minutes of action.
Tennessee shot 12-26 in the second for 46%, 2-10 from deep, and 13-18 from the stripe. Overall the Vols shot 37% on 23-63 from the field with 6-23 from three and 16-25 from the free throw line. UT had 39 rebounds, 13 offensively, three blocks, 11 steals, 16 assists, and only eight turnovers.
This is the type game that has given the Tide trouble. A strong, physical, defensive minded, team. The game was basically a street fight and the Volunteers had more ammunition than the Tide did. Personally, I never think a loss is a good thing, but maybe the team will get that out of their system and close strong in the last five league games, the SEC Tournament, and the NCAA big dance. They will have to take better care of the basketball to go where they want to go. The defense continued their streak of no SEC team scoring over 69 points on the this season. However on this occasion, the offense couldn't do enough to help. The 59 points scored was a season low for Bama. Regroup, refocus, and finish strong.
Next up is a home game with Georgia on Saturday at 5 p.m. CT. The game will be shown on the SEC Network. After that is a Wednesday trip to South Carolina, a Saturday home game with Arkansas, a Wednesday visit from Auburn, before closing out the season with a trip to College Station to play Texas A&M. All winnable games and a couple losable without playing up to standard. Lets go win an SEC Championship!