For the fourth straight year, the Alabama Crimson Tide has started SEC play with a 2-0 record. The Tide started slow, but finished strong to run the South Carolina Gamecocks off the Coleman Coliseum floor, 74-47.
‘Bama only led 30-29 at the half, but outscored the visitors 44-18 in the second frame, as the perimeter shots started clicking, and the Tide took advantage of Mark Sears continued red-hot play.
The Tide’s starting center, Mohamed Wague, was out with a foot injury, so coach Nate Oats turned to Nick Pringle to take his spot. Pringle was joined by Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, and Grant Nelson in the starting lineup.
Estrada got the Tide off to a positive start by hitting a three-pointer right off the bat. Things then went downhill for a while, with Bama turning the ball over, and struggling to even get shots off. USC raced out to a 10-3 lead after just three minutes of play.
But, the Tide’s undoubted season MVP then put the team on his back. Sears heated up and hit three straight three-point attempts to tie the game at 19-19 with 16:55 left in the half. After seeing so many ref shows in the first part of the season, it was nice to see a crew tonight mostly swallow their whistle. The foul-prone Tide was not called for their first until the 6:51 mark — remarkable feat, particularly with Pringle on the court.
Despite Sears’ heroics, South Carolina still led 27-25. Then with 3:19 remaining, Mark made a hoop, and Latrell Wrightsell, Jr nailed a shot from behind the arc. But the late jumpers allowed ‘Bama to limp into the locker room with a feeble 30-29 lead.
It was a very good defensive half by the teams, but that was overshadowed by turnovers and some sloppy play that led to inability by both squads to find an offensive rhythm.
At the break, the Tide had shot 11-25 for 44% from the field, including 6 of 16 (38%) from deep. ‘Bama was also 2-2 from the free throw line, had 12 rebounds, six rebounds, two blocks, five steals, six assists, and six turnovers. Sears led the way with 15 points, while Estrada added seven. Sears played all but 37 seconds of the period. And the Tide needed him.
The Gamecocks shot 11-28 for 39% with 3-13 from three point range and 4-4 at the charity stripe. The physical visitors had 19 rebounds, four steals, four assists, and eight rebounds. Meechie Johnson scored eight points and BJ Mack contributed seven.
The same starting lineups came out for the second half, and it truly was a tale of two halves — to use the words of former Bama coach, Avery Johnson.
Sears immediately hit another three-point shot to open the scoring. Griffen made a spectacular dunk on an alley top. Estrada hit two straight from behind the arc, and the Tide was off and running. Suddenly, with 14:05 left in the game, the score was 43-29, and Cocks had yet to scored.
Finally, at the 13:30 mark, USCe netted their first points of the half, to cut the Tide’s lead down, 43-32. It was short-lived momentum, though, as Jarin Stevenson hit a top of the key three-pointer to push the lead to 13, and the Tide rout was on.
Seldom-used Freshman Mouhamed Dioubate then entered the game and made an immediate impact with his toughness and hustle: The Tide had two offensive rebounds in the first half, but Dioubate grabbed two of his own within one minute of being on the court.
Gamecock star Meechie Johnson finally made a basket in the half, at the eight minute mark, then got into a war of words with the ‘Bama bench. Johnson and Tide walk-on Max Scharnowski both received technical fouls.
Sears continued his sizzling play after the break, making an old fashioned three-point play, two more from long range, and two free throws, before coming out with around three minutes left and 31 points on the ledger. Sam Walters and Devin Cosby contributed three-pointers as the bench emptied, and ‘Bama took home a huge win.
In the second, half Bama shot 15-29 for 52%, 9-18 from three, and made 5-7 free throws.
Overall, the team shot 48% on 26-54, an outstanding 44% on 15-34 from three, and 7-9 for 78% at the line. After being beaten on the boards in the first half, the Tide picked up the intensity, and finished with 36 total rebounds (nine offensive), had 10 steals, four blocks, 15 assists, and 15 turnovers.
Player of the game Mark Sears shot 10-13 overall, 6-8 from three, and 5-5 at the free throw line for his 31 points. He was everywhere, doing everything. Mark also had six rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
Estrada shot an excellent 7-11, going 3-4 from deep, and bagged 17 points. He also had a team-leading seven rebounds, added two assists, and two steals. As has been his problem, however, Estrada did have five turnovers — fully a third of ‘Bama’s total for the game — and finished and just +2 on the night.
Walters added six points. Dioubate only played nine minutes, but had three points, six rebounds, a block, and a steal.
Pringle earned the hard hat award, playing tough defensively and contributing three points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and a steal. Pringle immediately turned and gave the hard hat to Dioubate, a nice gesture, and a deserved honor for the freshman.
Nelson probably had a first in his basketball career: being held scoreless. In 24 minutes, the transfer senior took only three shots, two from three-point range. Nelson had three rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal.
South Carolina shot only 6-27 in the second half, with 2-12 from three point range, and 4-5 at the free throw line. Overall, the Tide defense held the visitors to 17-55 for 31%, 5-25 for 20% from behind the arc, and 8-9 at the free throw line. The Gamecocks finished with 31 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, eight steals, and 17 turnovers. Johnson was the leading scorer with 16 points, but made only 6-18 shots from the field.
Oats has pounded the table all season on the Tide’s lack of defense. Something must have finally broken through; South Carolina’s only loss prior to tonight was to a very good Clemson team that beat Alabama in November. The Gamecocks do play a slow, plodding, style — working the shot clock down before attacking. That style worked in the first half, forcing the Tide into a type game they do not like to play.
But Bama’s defensive intensity picked up midway through the first half, and locked down the Gamecocks after intermission, forcing the visitors into playing a style they in turn were not comfortable with, nor one where they had the firepower to overcome a steep deficit.
Though Mark was the best individual player, the defense really was a team effort MVP tonight. Sears and Estrada were constantly stripping the ball from guards and bigs alike. Pringle stood his ground and was able to defend without fouling. Despite not scoring, Nelson was active defensively. The biggest bright spot was the passionate play of Dioubate. At 6’7” and 215 pounds, the slender freshman held his own with the likes of the 6’8” 260 pound Mack and company.
— Nelson has looked tentative the last several games, especially in the two SEC games. With his skill set he is going to have to do more for the Tide to be successful.
— Sears is playing like the best player in the conference.
— Estrada has been stuffing the stat sheet each game.
— Griffen has been solid, but the team needs more from him.
— After the game Oats said Wague is week to week with his injury.
— On the double technical foul call Oats said “they said our guys were talking, there was a lot of talking coming from South Carolina players, yelling at our bench that the SEC isn't ready for them, it looks like this SEC team was ready for them.”
The Tide hit the road again, making the short trip to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The game is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and will be shown on the SEC Network.
Ball and Oats
How are we feeling about ‘Bama at the midway point of the season?
This poll is closed
Despite all those the heartbreaks against a tough OOC schedule, I really think ‘Bama can be a player in the SEC and earn a nice seed-line
The winning streak and the 2-0 start in SEC play is great, but there is a lot of heavy lifting in front of this team and the season is still up in the air.
Until Alabama proves it will not implode down the stretch versus tourney teams, and actually gets on the right side of the ledger against some quality teams, I’m still a skeptic.
Unknown / No Opinion