His team battled back from a 15-point deficit to take another conference win on the road, and afterwards Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried heaped praise on his players. "It was a heckuva night," he said. "I've been around the game a long time, but I don't know that I've ever been prouder of a group. We just didn't play very well early. We couldn't make a shot. We never got in any rhythm offensively. Our effort was there the whole night, but our effort in the second half was phenomenal."
Alabama's overall record now stands at 21-4, 9-2 in SEC play. South Carolina, which had hoped for an upset win to improve its chances at the NCAA Tournament, drops to 14-10 overall, and only 4-7 in the conference.
The 28-15 halftime score represented Alabama's lowest first-half total of the season, fully nine points less than the previous worst effort against Auburn. "In the first half offensively we weren't making our shots," Gottfried said. "But we also weren't giving ourselves a chance to get the best shot. They were shots that we could make, but we stood around a lot. There wasn't a lot of movement on offense. We became a very easy team to defend."
Eight first-half Tide turnovers, including seven steals by a trapping South Carolina defense, gave Bama fits. Gottfried explained; "It was just taking care of the ball. They trapped us four or five times and created baskets off of turnovers. We had to be tougher mentally and physically with the basketball. We have had times this season when we've handled pressure pretty well. And not just individual man-to-man pressure, but when we get trapped. Tonight South Carolina just did a great job."
"They're not a team that traps for the entire game," Gottfried continued. "It's a surprise after a time out, after a dead ball, after a foul shot. And quite frankly our point guards didn't do a very good job handling it. We didn't have any poise against it early on. I thought in the second half we did a much better job. We saw what they were doing and figured it out."
Tide forward Erwin Dudley talked about the problem. "They kind of jumped on us at the beginning of the game and we weren't really ready for it. They played great defense and got some steals, but as the game went on, we watched what they were doing. They were jumping in the passing lanes. In the second half we took our time, took care of the ball and made sure passes."
In what has become commonplace for him, Dudley garnered his twelfth double-double of the season to help lead the Bama team. The big man banged all night, coming away with offensive rebounds and crucial points on the inside. "I thought Erwin was sensational," Gottfried said. "He got a couple of huge tips, where he went up above the pack. Everybody's going after the ball, and he just seems to rise above it and tip the ball in. He really played with a lot of heart."
Dudley's 20 points tied him for the team lead with Rod Grizzard. "I though that Rod Grizzard tonight in the second half played like a Player of the Year candidate," Gottfried said. "I don't know that he would get a lot of votes this year. Hopefully he would--him and Erwin Dudley both--but he took the game over."
A dunk on the inside early in the second half gave South Carolina a 15 point lead at 37-22. But Bama responded with a remarkable 22-6 run, to take its first lead of the game. During that stretch Grizzard led the way with 14 points. "Rod played great," Dudley said. "We need Rod to do that every game. Rod's a great player. He has the potential to take over a game whenever he feels like it. Tonight he did it."
Gottfried explained that a coaching move created a match-up advantage for Grizzard, giving him the edge he needed on offense. "We elected to go with our small group, which meant that their ‘4' player had to guard Rod. They stayed with the big lineup, where we felt like we had an offensive advantage. It's not a great advantage defensively, because he has to guard their power forward. But offensively it helped Rod get into a rhythm to where he really had an opportunity to score. He took the game over to where they had a hard time guarding him."
Offensively it was a virtual two-man show for the Tide. After Grizzard and Dudley, Bama's next leading scorer was Antoine Pettway with six. Earnest Shelton and Kenny Walker had two points apiece. And Terrance Meade and Reggie Rambo added one point each. South Carolina's Aaron Lucas had 17 points; Chuck Eidson contributed 13; and Roland Howell added 10.
Alabama outrebounded the Gamecocks 36 to 32.
Next up for Alabama is a Saturday game versus Tennessee. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 pm (CST) in a home game at Coleman Coliseum.