Tide faces another road challenge

Good news came in the form of a road win on Wednesday when Alabama beat Georgia, 45-42, but it wasn't necessarily all in good fun.

Earnest Shelton, the Crimson Tide's leading scorer at 15.5 points per game, was sidelined with a knee injury in the first half. He came back and tried to play in the second half, but was removed and didn't return. An MRI revealed a knee sprain, and he is out indefinitely.

"I think it really hurts us," said University of Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried. "We don't know how long it's going to be. Any team that loses their leading scorer, obviously that makes things a lot more difficult for you. And it's unfortunate because he's been playing exceptionally well on both ends of the court.

"We'll take it game by game, see how Earnest feels, and, hopefully it won't be long."

With Shelton out, 6-foot-4 senior Emmett Thomas would start in his place. Thomas, as the sixth man, is averaging 8.8 points per game and has provided solid defense coming off the bench. Shelton's injury will also mean more minutes for Demetrius Smith at both guard positions.

Alabama (11-4, 3-1 SEC) will try to continue its good fortune on the road when it travels to Ole Miss (9-6, 1-3) on Saturday for a 5 p.m. tip-off on Fox Sports Net. The Rebels were winless before defeating LSU on Wednesday at the friendly confines of Tad Smith Coliseum.

On paper at least, the Rebels appear to be a beatable team. But in recent years Alabama has not fared well playing on the road at UM.

"Ole Miss will be a tremendous challenge," Gottfried said. "We have not played very well over there. We're not very good to begin with, but when you lose your leading scorer the way we have now in Earnest Shelton, it makes it even more challenging."

Last Wednesday Ole Miss took advantage of its home crowd, defeating a tough LSU team 53-49, the same LSU squad that beat Alabama in Baton Rouge earlier in the season.

Emmett Thomas will start for Alabama in place of the injured Earnest Shelton. (AP photo)

"Ole Miss had a big win at home (Wednesday)," Gottfried said. "We've got to defend them well. We were pathetic offensively (against Georgia). But we found a way to win."

Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes is 5-5 against the Tide, but all five victories have come in Oxford.

"Alabama is a very good team," Barnes said. "We are glad we are playing the game at home. We are going to have our work cut out for us. Seven of our 14 players are new to the team. We have to do our best to win our home games.

"It was a big relief to get our first SEC win under our belt. We are a work in progress and need to play well at home."

Senior forward Justin Reed leads the Rebels and is second in the SEC in scoring, dropping 17.9 points per game. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Jackson, Miss., native is also Ole Miss' leading rebounder, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game. His high school teammate, 6-foot-7 small forward Aaron Harper, is second on the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game.

The Rebels like to play 10 or 11 players in a game, but the other three starters will likely include freshman Todd Abernethy (5.7 ppg, 2.6 apg) at the point guard position and junior Justin Johnson (5.9 ppg) at the two-guard spot. Tommie Eddie (6.3 ppg), a wide-bodied 260-pound junior, will start at power forward.

The Rebels' top reserves include 5-foot-9 guard Cavadas Nunnery and forwards Kendrick Fox and Marvin Moore.

Ole Miss has demolished the Tide at home over the past three years, winning 76-57 last season, 84-56 two seasons ago, and 105-71 three seasons ago.

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