The No. 8/9 Alabama men’s basketball team pulled out an 82-78 home victory over Vanderbilt, improving the Crimson Tide to 18-5 overall and 13-1 in Southeastern Conference. This puts UA’s magic number to clinch at least a share of its first SEC regular season championship at one game heading into next week’s action.
The Crimson Tide and early start times go together like oil and water. After losing two 11 a.m. Saturday games recently, moving the start time to noon didn’t help much as the Tide put together a clunker, but pulled out an 82-78 victory over last place Vanderbilt. Bama improved to 18-5 overall and 13-1 in the SEC. Vanderbilt fell to 6-12, 2-10 in league. The Tide’s magic number to clinch the SEC regular season title sits at one now.
Alabama got some good news prior to tip when Jordan Bruner was cleared to play and actually started the game. Coach Nate Oats started an all senior lineup of Bruner, John Petty, Herbert Jones, Alex Reese, and walk-on Tyler Barnes. Barnes played until the first media timeout.
The first half was a low scoring affair with the Tide not able to throw the ball in the proverbial ocean. Jones drew his second foul with about nine minutes left in the half and had to sit for several minutes. The team appeared to be sleepwalking through the game but made a little run at the end of the half and led 33-29 at the break. The halftime numbers were abysmal, shooting 10-29 for 34%, including 6-24 from three point range – meaning they were 4-5 from two point range – but did make 7-8 free throws. Vanderbilt shot better at 11-28 for 39% with 5-10 from deep and 2-4 from the free throw line. Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly led the team with eight points each and Bruner had six rebounds.
The 15 minute rest didn’t do much to wake up the Tide as the Commodores grabbed the lead at the 17:28 mark when Jones committed his third foul. Scottie Pippen, Jr. was having his way with Tide defenders. In the first 4:12 of the half Bama had a grand total of one point. Keon Ellis drilled a three point shot for a 41-38 lead and VU coach Jerry Stackhouse was assessed a technical foul. After Shackelford made both and Jones hit a three, it looked the Tide was going to take control with their 48-41 lead. The lead got pushed out to a dozen before Vandy made a big comeback and led 65-63 with 5:32 left. Reese hit a three-pointer for one point Bama advantage and from there it was hold on for dear life. Every time the Tide could almost put the game away, the ‘Dores would battle back. But Alabama hit enough free throws down the stretch to hold on for the ugly 82-78 win. An ugly win is better than a pretty loss, however.
The Tide’s offense in the second half consisted almost solely “Shack to the rack” as the California sophomore put the team on his back and scored time and time again on drives to the basket. The shooting improved to 50% with 16-32, put only 4-15 from three, and 13-20 from the free throw line. Overall the team finished 26-61 for 42% including 10-39 for 25% from three point range and 20-28 (71%) from the free throw line. Alabama finished with 37 rebounds, 15 assists, nine turnovers, five blocks, and eight steals. Vanderbilt improved to 14-29 in the second with 5-13 from deep and 16-20 from the free throw stripe. Overall the Commodores shot 25-57 for 44%, 10-23 from three for 43% and 18-24 for 75% from the charity stripe. The ‘Dores had 36 rebounds, 11 assists, 15 turnovers, one block and five steals.
Individually, it was the Shackelford show, finishing with 27 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Quinerly had 15 points and three assists, and Reese finished in double figures with 10 points. Ellis had eight points and led the team with nine rebounds. Jones had eight points, three assists, three steals, and four rebounds before fouling out. Pippen led VU with 24 followed by Maxwell Evans with 18 and Dylan Disu with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
A win is a win is a win, but this one was ugly. The team is going to have to figure out how to play early games to get where they want to go. On Senior Day, Petty disappeared offensively, taking only eight shots, making two of them and scoring six points. Jones was held to 19 minutes because of his foul trouble. Josh Primo continued his recent roller coaster play of being awesome one game and invisible the next. All that being said, they are still 13-1 in the SEC and one game away from clinching. At the start of the season there isn’t a Tide fan alive that wouldn’t have taken a wager on that scenario.