Anyone looking at Saturday's basketball scores would be surprised to see Alabama losing a home game to a mediocre Ole Miss team, but only mildly surprised. After all, Bama has been only a notch above mediocre in struggling to a 7-5 record in pre-Southeastern Conference games.
But Alabama's loss Saturday night was far greater than the 71-61 loss to the Rebels. When senior forward Chuck Davis went down with what has been diagnosed as a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, it is likely that any faint hopes for great success went with him.
Crimson Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried and Alabama players had a stiff upper lip in discussing the future, but what happened to Bama in Coleman Coliseum spoke louder than Bama words.
Davis went down at the 13-minute mark of the first half. He didn't have a point, and no one had many, Alabama leading 9-4 in a poor exhibition of basketball.
By halftime, Alabama had staked itself to a 30-23 lead, and Bama got it to nine in the opening moments of the second half when Jermareo Davidson threw down a dunk and a 32-23 Bama advantage.
Ole Miss would then score 13 straight points and take the lead for good. Bama cut the margin to three points (62-59) with just under two minutes to play, but the Rebels made good on their free throws and Alabama couldn't make shots. The final margin of 10 points was the biggest of the game for Ole Miss.
Although Alabama players and Gottfried were reluctant to use the loss of Davis as an excuse, it was obvious that Bama was not the same team with the star on the bench in a sweat suit, having come back into the coliseum on crutches.
Bama's woes were compounded by soph guard Ron Steele having what was surely the worst game in his career. Steele was 0-10 from the field, scoing only a pair of free throws. Freshman Alonzo Gee, who had moved into a starting role with good performances, looked like a freshman as he failed to score and had five turnovers in 10 minutes of play.
The horrible night overshadowed solid performances by two other true freshmen. Richard Hendrix had 12 points and eight rebounds, and point guard Brandon Hollinger (who had 35 minutes of playing time) had 13 points.
Jermareo Davidson, who has been Alabama's most improved player this year, had 25 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
The Rebels were led by Dwayne Curtis, who had 21 points and 14 rebounds in his SEC debut for Mississippi.
As has often been the case this year, Alabama shot poorly. In the second half the Rebels hit 15 of 27 field goals (55.6 per cent) and finished at 43.4 per cent (23-53) for the game. Alabama managed only 21-55 for 38.2 per cent. Neither team shot well from three-point range, the Rebels hitting 4-13 for 30.8 per cent, Alabama (which missed seven three-point tries in the final 1:15) hit 3-15, 20 per cent. Mississippi made good on 21-26 free throws, 80.8 per cent, while Alabama was good on 16-24, 66.7 per cent.
Alabama finished with 38 rebounds to 35 for the Rebels, but in the final minute or so Bama got about a half dozen boards while Ole Miss was just making sure not to foul.
The loss dropped Alabama to 7-6 overall and 0-1 in SEC play. The Tiude will ber on the road for tgwo games next week, at Auburn at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday and at Kentucky at noon CST next Saturday. Bama returns to Coleman Coliseum at 7 p.m. CST January 18 hosting Arkansas.