The Alabama Crimson Tide improved to 12-5 overall and 4-0 in the SEC by winning a physical, chippy game with the Missouri Tigers Tuesday night, 93-75.
On a cold, icy, night in Tuscaloosa, ‘Bama defended their home court and remain one of only two undefeated teams in league play — alongside the Auburn Tigers. Unusual arctic weather blew into the area on Monday night forcing the University to close down Tuesday, but the basketball game still went on. And the university opened up premium seating for students at the 16 minute mark. It resulted in a loud, raucous and energetic Coleman Coliseum.
Once again, Grant Nelson shined and seems to have finally and fully embraced his role on the team, and his path to the pros: doing the dirty work. After earning the Hard Hat on Saturday, Nelson followed-up that performance by posting a +24 tonight. His was a potent post performance, particularly down the stretch as the Tide turned a nip and tuck game into a laugher.
Mark Sears did not have usual offensive touch tonight, and was sidelined with what seemed to be be a minor ankle injury, but in his time on the floor, he was distributing the ball very well and enabled the rest of the backcourt to shine — particularly Aaron Estrada and an excellent game by Rylen Griffen.
The Tide used the starting five of Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Grant Nelson, and Nick Pringle again. Pringle was coming off a dismal performance against Mississippi State on Saturday where he played only six minutes before fouling out after contributing one rebound and no points.
The scoring started off slowly between these two guard-led teams, and the Tide was only up 16-13 with 11:43 left in the half. ‘Bama then went on a run and led 24-15 with 7:34 on the clock.
That was when Latrell Wrightsell, Jr and a couple of Tiger players got tangled up in front of the Tide bench. The referees did a poor job of maintaining order, and things almost got out of control. Pushing and shoving ensued, and when Missouri player Aidan Shaw stepped toward the ‘Bama bench, coach Nate Oats stepped in and tried to direct Shaw toward the Mizzou bench.
The officials gathered at the monitor to check the action. While that was going on Athletic Director and school President Stuart Bell whisked new football coach Kalen DeBoer to mid court for a quick introduction. DeBoer said a few words and left with a “Roll Tide.”
The officials came back with the decision, a personal foul on Estrada, only. There were several things that could have happened, including a technical or ejection for Oats, and some action toward a few different players on both teams. Given how miserable this crew was tonight, that was a somewhat surprising result. The officiating crew should have been in giant red noses and rainbow wigs instead of striped uniforms.
The Tide built a 33-22 lead with 4:09 left in the half, but as we have seen too often this season, melted-down over the last part of the period. Sears had tweaked his ankle and sat out the last several minutes of the half. Bama was outscored 12-3 to close out the half, and led only 36-34 at the break.
In the first half, Alabama shot 13-29 for 45%, 5-14 from behind the arc for 36%, and made 5-6 at the free throw line. Bama had 17 rebounds, nine assists, two blocks, five steals, and eight turnovers. Pringle led the attack with 10 points and Estrada added seven. Missouri shot a hot 15-29 for 52%, 4-10 from deep and did not attempt free throw. The Tiger had 14 rebounds, six steals, four assists, and turned it over seven times. Nick Honor and Jesus Carralero Martin both had eight points.
One of the best athletes in the world, the Red Panda, entertained the crowd at halftime, and gave another amazing performance. She did not drop a single bowl, plate, spoon, or anything else during her floor routine. It was the cleanest 10 minutes of play the Coleman crowd had seen on the night.
Not sure what was louder, cheers for Kalen DeBoer or Red Panda. pic.twitter.com/MCMhRpLSkL— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) January 17, 2024
The same starters trotted out for the second half, including Sears who tried to give it a go. With Sears somewhat hobbled, Estrada knew he needed to step up his offensive game, and did. Estrada hit an old fashioned three-point play, then a triple from behind the arc to stake the Tide to a 46-41 lead with 16:50 left.
The chippy play continued, and when Nelson blocked a shot and grabbed the ball, he and the Tiger player did a little jawing, with Bama being on the wrong end of the call. Nelson was called for a technical foul. Missouri made both the free throws to cut the lead to 48-47 with 13:40 remaining.
Sears was able to hit a long-range jumper and make a pair of free throws, and the Tide led 57-51 with 9:40 left. However, shortly thereafter, the senior superstar went to the bench where he remained for the rest of the game.
With the SEC’s leading scorer out of action, Griffen and Wrightsell took over offensively. With 7:40 left Griffen hit his first of four three-pointers over a four-minute stretch for a 62-55 lead. Wrightsell added a triple of his own, and Estrada and Nelson took turns knocking down free throws, as the Tide pulled away.
Wrightsell and the Tigers Noah Carter got tangled up at one point and both were assessed technical fouls. That would only help ‘Bama. The Tide was on-point at the free throw line, and finished the game off with the 93-75 win, building the margin at the charity stripe.
In the second half the Tide shot 17-28 for 61%, including 8-13 from deep and made 15-15 at the free throw line.
Overall Bama shot an excellent 30-57 for 52%, 13-27 from three for 48% and a sterling 20-21 at the line. Griffen tallied a career-high 21 points on 7-9 shooting, 5-7 from three, and 2-2 at the line. The Dallas sophomore was named player of the game, and added five rebounds, three assists, and one steal.
Estrada earned the hard hat award and had an excellent all-around game with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. The graduate transfer had to double up on ball handling with Sears having to sit out much of the game.
Nelson had his second straight outstanding game with 13 points on 4-6 shooting, eight rebounds, two blocks, and had a team-best plus/minus of +24. Wrightsell added 11 points on 3-6 from three point land. Sears was limited to 25 minutes and scored nine points with six assists and one steal.
Missouri shot 11-24 for 46% including 4-11 for 36% from three in the second half. The Tigers shot 15-20 on free throws. Overall MU shot 49%, making 26 of 53 shots, including 8-21 from three. All of the visitors free throws came in the second half. Tamar Bates led the team with 19 points and Honor ended with 18.
This was tough win that the Tide fought hard for — sometimes almost literally. With Sears limited, Estrada and Griffen needed to step up offensively, and both did in a big way.
The physicality that Bama seemed to shy away from for the first half of the season is now part of the team’s DNA. Oats preaching on the need for tougher play seems to have hit home.
Nelson in particularly has stepped up his physical play. Estrada and Wrightsell both are tough players and have embraced the toughness. Mouhamed Dioubate’s insertion in the rotation has played a big part as well. Despite playing only about 10 minutes a game “Little Mo’s” energy seems to have lit a fire in other players.
This was a must-win against the SEC’s cellar dweller with ‘Bama facing a brutal two-game stretch that will tell us a lot more about the Tide.
Up next is a road trip to Tennessee on Saturday to play the 6th ranked Volunteers at 7 p.m. C.T. The game will be shown on ESPN2.
A couple of big things to look for are the health of Sears, and if the SEC Office will hand down any punishment for Oats. Some have indicated that he could be suspended for his action during the game. Oats apologized to Missouri coach Dennis Gates and Shaw after the game, but his action probably kept the situation from becoming much worse, particularly in a chippy game the officials did a poor job of managing, and against a Tigers team hell-bent on instigating a fracas.