It was about as ugly as a win can get, but the Crimson Tide hung on to defeat Vanderbilt 78-75 on Saturday afternoon in Nashville. Bama shot out to an early 18 point lead then stumbled, fumbled, staggered, and held on. Coach Nate Oats improved to 4-0 in Memorial Gymnasium and 10-0 in the city of Nashville in his Alabama career.
Oats sent out Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Grant Nelson, and Mohamed Wague as his starting five, as has been the norm of late. With the score tied at 11 five minutes into the game, the Tide heated up. Griffen, Latrell Wrightsell Jr, and Sam Walters all hit from long range to build a lead of 23-15 with 12:45 left in the first half. The same trio hit the next three from long range for the Tide and all of a sudden Bama led 33-15 with 10:49 on the clock.
The Tide went cold and Vanderbilt heated up to close the margin to 10. Wrightsell and Griffen hit three pointers - Griffen’s later changed to a two because of his toe on the line- before Vanderbilt rallied again and cut the margin to 40-36 at the half. Bama failed to score in the last 4:30 of the half, and scored only seven in the last nine-plus minutes.
At halftime the Tide was shooting 13-24 for 54% and 7-16 from behind the arc. Bama hit six of their first eight three point shots, but finished one for their last eight. Alabama was also 7-9 from the free throw line, had 20 rebounds, eight turnovers, two blocks, one steal, and nine assists. Griffen and Wrightsell scored 11 points each to lead the attack.
Vanderbilt shot 12-33 for 36% in the half, 5-15 for 33% from three, and made 7-8 from the free throw line. The Commodores grabbed 14 rebounds, had three assists, five steals, one block, and only two turnovers. Ezra Manjon led the Dores with 12 points.
The same starters came out for the second half. The Tide broke their long scoreless drought early with a Griffen lay in. Estrada finally scored his first points of the game with 17:25 left in the game, and the Tide left 44-38. Estrada followed with a three pointer for a 47-38 lead with 16:15 left in the game. Bama was able to maintain a lead of nine to 11 points over the next several minutes, but Vanderbilt would not back down. Sloppy turnovers, spotty shooting, and poor defense started to bite the Tide in the butt. Alabama bounced back to go back ahead by 10 on a Sears three point shot with seven minutes left, 65-55.
Vanderbilt freshman Jason Rivera-Torres kept the home team in the game, seemingly scoring at will over the next few minutes. With 2:55, Sears had scored nine straight Alabama points for what seemed like a comfortable 72-63 lead. In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. Even with a seven point lead with 33 seconds left the game came down to the last second. A combination of missed free throws and turnovers allowed Vandy to hang close.
With 14 seconds left Griffen was fouled with Bama leading 77-74. Two made free throws would likely put the game away. Griffen missed the front end of the one and one, and Vanderbilt made 1-2 from the line after a Tide foul. On the miss Griffen rebounded the ball and took off down court, using most of the clock. Griffen allowed himself to be fouled, and then made the first free throw, but missed the second. With under one second left the play would have been to let the Dores grab the board, but Griffen went for the board and fouled the Vanderbilt player. With a 78-75 lead the Commodores were going to try and make the first and miss the second and hope for a tip in for a tied game. The plans backfired when the free throw was missed. Alabama grabbed the rebound as the clock ran out, and the Tide held on for the 78-75 win.
In the second half Bama cooled down to 13-29 for 45%, 5-14 for 36% from deep, and hurt themselves with only 7-12 from the charity stripe. Overall Bama finished 26-53 for 49%, 12-30 for 40% from behind the arc, and 14-21 for 67% on freebies. The Tide had 41 rebounds, 13 assists, five steals, five blocks, and 16 big turnovers. Sears led the way with 21 points, four rebounds and three assists. However, the senior had six mostly careless turnovers, many when he found himself up in the air with the ball and nowhere to pass it. Griffen scored 16 points with four rebounds. Wrightsell was the only other player in double digits with 11. Estrada only scored five, but led the team with seven rebounds, and six assists, while adding a blocked shot. Nelson scored nine, rebounded five, and blocked three shots. Walters tallied eight points in his 13 minutes of action. Estrada was accidentally elbowed in the face by Nick Pringle and had to sit out several minutes while being tended to. The tough graduate student returned to play and finished the game.
Vanderbilt shot 14-32 for 44%, 2-11 from three, and made 9-12 free throws in the second. Overall the home team shot 26=65 for 40%, 7-26 from long range for 27%, and 16-20 for 80% from the charity stripe. The home team had 34 rebounds, 10 steals, three blocks, six assists, and nine turnovers. Rivera-Torres and Tyrin Lawrence scored 20 apiece to lead the team. Dynamic point guard Manjon scored 16 points in 27 minutes before leaving with an ankle injury. The Tide could not handle Manjon before he went down, and the injury came at an opportune time for the visitors.
A win is a win is a win, especially on the road, and especially in a tough place to play like Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt is not a good team though, and they really had no business being in a dogfight with the Tide. Lack of defense, sloppy turnovers, and up and down shooting almost doomed the Tide in a game that they were favored by 14 points. Fourteen games into the season, with 17 SEC games left the Tide has continued to make many of the same mistakes defensively that they have all season.
Sears has been a lifesaver for the team, and along with Estrada, Griffen, and Wrightsell, give the Tide a dynamic backcourt. Walters has come on the last handful of games, and if he will play any defense at all his long range marksmanship can be deadly. Nelson isn't going to be a superstar, but does plenty to help by scoring, rebounding, handling the ball, and blocking shots. Stevenson, who should be high school senior, is slowly growing as the season progresses. Not to continually harp on it, but the lack of Charles Bediako down low has really handicapped the team. Oh well, play with the cards you are dealt.
Next up are the surprising South Carolina Gamecocks in a home game at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday. The Gamecocks were picked toward the bottom of the league but are 13-1 overall and won their SEC opener 68-62 over Mississippi State on Saturday. The game will be shown on the SEC Network, and with school starting Wednesday the students will all be back in town.