Tide Stands Strong Without Steele

The Crimson Tide's energy level had been at a low ebb in recent games, but on Wednesday night, in the most sparsely attended game of the year for Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, it was effort that carried Bama to a 69-58 victory over Mississippi (18-10 overall, 7-8 SEC) and kept alive the squad's hopes for a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division Championship.

It was a three-point game at 56-53with 90 seconds to play but Mykal Riley nailed an open three pointer with 1:22 on the clock to put the Rebels away. Alabama led for most of the game but Ole Miss hung close until the end.

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said, "I was very disappointed in the fact that I thought Alabama was a little quicker to the ball. Every loose ball that was 50-50 (per cent chance for either team to recover it) I thought they came up with it about 80 percent of the time. I thought they attacked us more."

Alabama out-rebounded Mississippi 48-37 in the plodding, slow-paced game, and was more aggressive than the Rebels on offense, going to the free throw line 21 times compared to just six for Ole Miss. Alabama got 16 offensive rebounds in the first half, but eked out a one point 24-23 halftime edge thanks to 25.7 per cent (9 of 35) shooting from the field.

"In the first half I thought our defense was excellent but we couldn't make a shot," Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said.

Point guard Ron Steele, still nursing an injured knee, did not play at all in the game for the first time in SEC Play. Steele did not even dress for the game, introducing a dynamic that forced more weight on the shoulders of Alabama freshmen guards Mikhail Torrance and Justin Tubbs, and on sophomore Brandon Hollinger, who started the game but picked up his fourth foul with over seven minutes to play.

"My thought is if (Steele) can play we want him to play," Gottfried said, "but if he's not going to play he doesn't need to be sitting over there with a uniform where they (Bama's freshmen guards) are sitting and looking and waiting.

"Knowing he is not going to get in the game, I think others step up and play, but I hope we get him back soon."

Torrance and Tubbs combined for 27 effective minutes, committing only one turnover while picking up six assists. Hollinger had one assist and one turnover and Bama only turned it over 10 times as a team.

Riley led Alabama's scoring with 13 points and three other Crimson Tide players, Alonzo Gee, Richard Hendrix and Jermareo Davidson, had 12 points apiece. Davidson added 11 rebounds for a double-double on his senior night and Gee had 10 boards.

Alabama (20-9 overall, 7-8 SEC) is locked in a four-way tie for the division lead with Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State, but can finish no better than the number two seed in the division for SEC Tourney play.

"With all of our troubles and miscues and fumbling and bumbling around we're sitting here with a chance to play for a Western Division Championship," Gottfried said, "and potentially an NCAA tournament berth. I don't think we're out of the picture yet. Despite everything we're still in the hunt."

Attendance for Wednesday night's game was 10,449, the lowest for a home conference game this year.


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