Alabama, the top seeded Western Division team, won its first game in the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Friday afternoon, defeating Ole Miss, 69-52. Bama will face either Florida or Mississippi State, playing a later game, in the semifinals of the tournament at 1 p.m. EST (noon central time) Saturday.
Earnest Shelton tied an SEC Tournament record and an Alabama school record with eight three-point shots as the senior guard poured in 26 points to lead the Tide offense.
Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried, who was one of two Alabama players who has scored eight three-point goals in a game, said, "I thought on of Earnest's eight three-point shots was critical when Ole Miss had cut the lead to six." That three-pointer with 6:45 to play started Bama on a 13-2 run that put the game away.
Alvin Lee was the other Alabama player to have eight three-pointers in a game. Both Gottfried and Lee had their eight treys in regular season games. Shelton became the fourth player to have eight three-pointers in an SEC Tournament game.
Although many believe the Georgia Dome is not a good shooting venue, Shelton said, "I think this is a good place to shoot." He was good on 8-11 three-point shots. His only other shot was a made layup on a fast break and he was fouled on the play. But he failed to convert the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. He had four treys in each half, the record-tying shot coming with just 31 seconds to play. That shot gave Bama its biggest lead of the game at 69-49. It was the eighth time this season Shelton has made five or more three-point shots.
Alabama trailed much of the first half, but outscored the Rebels 11-3 to close out the first period and take a 27-21 lead at intermission. Mississippi got within five points briefly in the second half before a Ron Steele three-pointer.
One area in which Alabama shot very poorly was from the free throw line. The exception was Chuck Davis. Fortunately for the Tide, Davis was the one who most often went to the free throw line. Davis was good on 9 of 12 foul shots, but Bama as a team made only 10 of 19 for 52.6 per cent. Alabama led the SEC in free throw shooting this year at 74.2 per cent.
Davis was only 3 of 8 from the field, but with his free throws had 15 points. The only other Tider in double figures was Jean Felix, who was 3-5 on three-pointers (and 1-5 on free throws) for 10 points. Kennedy Winston had a terrible shooting day, only 4-12, including 0-5 on treys, and had only eight points. But Winston did have eight rebounds and six assists.
Steele had an excellent game. He was only 2-4 from the field (both three-pointers), but had seven assists, four rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot and had only one turnover in 35 minutes of play.
In addition to his 15 points and 7 rebounds, Davis had 5 blocked shots.
Alabama shot a lot of three-pointers and shot better from behind the arc than on two-point field goal attempts. Bama was 13-25 on treys, 52 per cent, and 23-52 on all field goal attempts, 44.2 per cent. That means Bama hit only 10-27 on two-point field goal tries, 37 per cent. Of Alabama's 23 field goals there were 18 assisted.
But Bama was good on defense. The Tide held the Rebels to 19-48 on field goals, 39.6 per cent, and 5-12 on three-pointers, 41.7 per cent. Ole Miss, usually not a good free throw shooting team, made 9 of 10.
Ole Miss had a 32-31 rebound advantage. The Rebels, led by Tommie Eddie with 19 points and Ed Glass with 14, outscored Bama 24-14 in the paint and 8-6 on second chance points. Bama scored 11 points off 13 Mississippi turnovers, while the Rebels scored 7 points off Bama's 7 turnovers.
It was not a day for giving the starters a great deal of rest. Although Felix replaced Jermareo Davidson and played 30 minutes to Davidson (0-4 from the field) having only 15 minutes, Davis played 33 minutes, Shelton 34, Steele 35, and Winston 37.
Gottfried said, "I think we made some big shots at key times, then made some key stops. I thought we won a game when we didn't play very well, and I think it's the sign of a good team when you can struggle and still win. Certainly, Ole Miss gets some credit for our play. Rod Barnes and his staff make you play. You don't get easy baskets against them."
Gottfried said he thinks it is important in tournament play that you have different players step up. "We were fortunate to win when we didn't play real well, but I think it's the sign of a good team when different guys score for you. Kennedy didn't play well and we're a good foul shooting team, but didn't shoot them well, particularly early."
This was Bama's third win of the season over the Rebels. Bama had won in Oxford, 66-58, and in Tuscaloosa, 71-45. Alabama improved its record to 24-6. Mississippi finished its season at 14-17.
Alabama will meet either Mississippi State, a team the Tide defeated twice during the regular season, or Florida, a team that routed the Crimson Tide earlier in the year. Bama rolled to a 98-49 win over Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa, then defeated the Bulldogs 68-63 in Starkville in the final game of the regular season last Saturday. On February 5, Florida embarrassed Alabama in Gainesville, 85-54. Mississippi State defeated Georgia in the opening round of the SEC Tournament to run its record to 22-9. Florida, which like Bama had a bye on Thursday, was 20-7 going into the game against State.
Gottfried noted, "I think our win at Mississippi State in the final game of the season was important. If we had lost, we would have lost three of our last four games coming into the tournament. Since we won, it means we now have a three-game winning streak."