A shorthanded Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team went on the road and defeated a tough Georgia Bulldog team 85-76 on Wednesday. The upstart Bulldogs entered the contest at 14-6 and 4-3 in the league with a 10-1 record at home. At the end of the night, Bama tightened their lead over the SEC with a 7-1 league mark and improved to 15-6 overall. Davin Cosby missed the game with the flu and Nick Pringle was left behind, as he was suspended from the team for the second time this season. In addition, Jarin Stevenson and Rylan Griffen were stuck in the elevator at the team hotel and were late for warmups.
In the words of former Alabama coach Avery Johnson, this was truly a tale of two halves. Coach Nate Oats stayed with the starting lineup of Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Latrell Wrightsell, Jr, and Grant Nelson. The quintet looked lost early, and the Dawgs ran out to a huge lead. Sears scored the Tide’s first points with 17:40 left and the Tide didn't score again until 11:11 was left in the half. At that point the score was 17-4. With 9:38, the deficit was 19-8.
With 7:54 left, UGA was 6-9 from three point range and the Tide was 0-8, and the score was a bleak 25-12. Estrada finally hit what we thought was a three pointer, but it was later changed to a two. With 4:15 left, Estrada hit one from behind the arc that counted, cutting the lead to 30-21. Georgia went on another big run and went to the locker room with a lead of 41-27. There is just something about Alabama teams being down two touchdowns to the Bulldogs at halftime.
At the half, Bama had shot 12-28 for 43%, including 2-11 (18%) from three point range, and uncharacteristically 1-4 from the free throw line. Somehow, the team totaled only seven rebounds, had six assists, five blocks, seven steals, and committed six turnovers. Nelson with six points led the scoring and Estrada and Mo Dioubate added five each.
Georgia shot 14-32 for 44%, 7-13 from deep, and 6-6 at the charity stripe. The Dogs dominated the boards with 27 rebounds, had eight assists, two blocks, five steals, and committed 10 turnovers. Noah Thomasson scored 13 and RJ Melendez had nine to lead the home team.
The same five starters came out for the second half, and they made up for their first half performance. The Tide was able to whittle the lead down to 10 with 16:30 left on the backs of tougher defense and better work on the boards. Bama cut the lead to 49-42 with 12:39 left despite being only 2-8 from the free throw line at the time. Alabama is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, but the Dawgs did of good job of sending the worst percentage shooters on the Tide to the line. Conversely UGA is one of the worst at the line in the SEC, yet they were 10-11 at the time.
Sears hit his first three pointer of the game with 10:22 left to make the score 57-47, sending the Tide on big run. Griffen got a and one three point play and Wrightsell, Jr buried a three pointer. With 6:38 UGA led 61-55 and they were reeling. Another Sears three pulled the Tide writing 64-61 with 5:59 left. Griffen nailed a clutch shot from behind the arc to tie the game for the first time since the opening tip. Nelson did his magic around the basket and gave Bama their first lead of the night at 66-64 with 4:37 left on the clock.
After UGA tied things up, Sears hit another long range jumper, followed by two free throws, and the Tide had a 71-66 lead with 3:40 left. Nelson took over at that point, making two free throws and two straight daggers from behind the three point line. With 1:11 left Alabama led 79-73. A Sears lay-in and two free throws along with two Wrightsell Jr free throws put the icing on the cake and Bama not only won, but covered the spread at 85-76.
In the second half, the Tide heated up to 20-32 for 63%, 6-12 from three, and 12-15 at the charity stripe. Overall, Bama shot 32-60 for 53%, 8-23 for 35% from deep, and 13-19 for 68% at the line. The team finished with 26 rebounds, 14 assists, five blocks, 13 steals, and nine turnovers. Per usual, Sears led the way with 23 points in 37 minutes and notched five rebounds, five assists, and four steals. The Muscle Shoals senior was both player of the game and the winner of the hard hat award. Nelson was huge with 20 points and also had three rebounds, two blocks, and a steal, all the while having to bang with Georgia’s huge center, Russell Tchewa. Griffen was also in double figures with 12 and had four rebounds and a steal. Estrada made it a quartet of double figure scorers with 11 points and had five rebounds, five assists, one block, and two steals. Wrightsell was off offensively and scored only seven, but had four big steals. Stevenson continued his strong play of late and was 2-2 from the field with four points and five rebounds.
Georgia shot 13-29 for 45%, including 0-4 from three, and 9-12 from the free throw line. Overall the Dawgs shot 27-61 for 44%, 7-17 for 42% from three, and 15-18 for 83% at the charity stripe. After 27 first half rebounds the Dogs only had 12 in the second period. UGA finished with 10 assist, three blocks, eight steals, and 19 huge turnovers. Thomasson and RJ Melendez finished with 15 points each.
What a huge win for the Tide.
They looked like awful in the first half, unable to make shots or rebound the ball at all. After scoring only two points in the first 8:30 of the game, Alabama scored 83 points the next 31:30. Sears, Nelson, Griffen, Estrada, and Wrightsell scored all but 12 of the teams points, and all played 25 minutes or more each. Stevenson with 20 minutes and Walters with 10 minutes were the only bench players with double digit minutes. With 10 minutes left during a timeout a player said “we can come back and win”, Oats jumped in and said “we are GOING to win this game,” and the players took that personally. The poise of the starters down the stretch was night and day from the first half. Georgia did an outstanding job of pushing the Tide off the three point line in the first half, but Oats and his halftime adjustments paid off again. Everyone not named Mo combined to shoot 13-13 at the free throw line. Just a huge. clutch, quad two, road win.
Alabama leads the way at 7-1, one game over South Carolina at 6-2. Auburn is 5-2 pending tonight’s game with Vanderbilt. Kentucky is also 5-2 pending tonight’s results, while Tennessee fell to 5-2 after losing to South Carolina last night. The Tide will try to build on that league mark when they host Mississippi State on Saturday night in Coleman Coliseum. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be shown on the SEC Network.
Roll Tide #BlueCollarBasketball