Unlikely Hero Leads Alabama Over Hogs
As Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried acknowledged after Bama's win over Arkansas, the Crimson Tide's struggles this year have been well documented, and he was pleased to get a rare Southeastern Conference victory. He was proud of his team's defensive effort.
There were a handful of key plays in the game, including star big man Richard Hendrix getting on the floor for a loose ball, then making an excellent pass to Rico Pickett, who drove for a slam dunk and a 53-48 lead with 2:19 to play.
But the story of the game was 6-7 sophomore forward Demetrius Jemison, who had career highs of 19 points (including two free throws with just under 10 seconds to play to ice the victory) and 11 rebounds. He was good on 7-12 field goals and all five of his free throw attempts.
Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey said, "He played really well. We had no answer for him. It was complete domination. You'd have thought if that was going to happen, it would have been Hendrix."
And Hendrix did have a good game, a familiar double-double. But it wasn't quite as good as Jemison's. Hendrix had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The win improved Alabama's overall record to 15-13 and its SEC record to 4-9. The 4-9 record is equaled by Ole Miss, Auburn and LSU in a tie for third (and last) in the SEC Western Division. Arkansas fell to 18-9 overall and 7-6 in conference play.
Bama goes back on the road Saturday to Ole Miss for a 1 p.m. CDT game that will be regionally telecast by Raycom. Bama was a 76-67 winner over the Rebels in Tuscaloosa two weeks ago.
Hendrix with three assists and no turnovers and Jemison with two assists and no turnovers outdid the Tide guards in that area, too. Bama's guards combined for three assists and 14 turnovers.
Gottfried did not want to characterize the game as sloppy or being an ugly win. He credited good defense. Pelphrey said, "We have been up and down, but at no point have we played like that for 40 minutes. Our play at both ends of the court was terrible."
Jemison said there was nothing special that made him expect to have the game of his Alabama career. "I just went through my usual game day ritual," he said. "I had a shower, then I called my parents and told them I'd see them after the game. Then I came over here and got ready to play."
Both Jemison and Gottfried said the key didn't come on game day. It came on the two days following a miserable Alabama performance at Auburn Sunday. Following that loss, Alabama – and notably Jemison – had two good days of practice.
Jemison had another explanation. "They were doubling Richard (Hendrix) a lot, and I just hung around the free throw line and was able to get those little shots. And I was able to get some rebounds."
Hendrix said, "I know that Meat (Jemison's nickname since Pee Wee football days) is capable of that kind of game every night. I told him to play with confidence, not to play timid, and that's what he did."
Gottfried used a platoon system early in the game. Although it didn't pay immediate dividends, later results were important.
When Bama's five starters – Rico Pickett, Mykal Riley, Alonzo Gee, Hendrix and Jemison – were replaced by Mikhail Torrance, Brandon Hollinger, Senario Hillman, Yamene Coleman and Justin Knox early in the first half, the results were awful – no points, two offensive fouls, one defensive foul, and two turnovers. The second group returned later in the half with roughly the same lack of production.
But in the second half Gottfried got valuable offense from some of the subs. Hillman canned a three-pointer to put Bama up 35-34 and moments later Hillman got an assist from Riley for a fast break dunk. Arkansas would get one more tie (at 43-43), but Bama never trailed after Hillman's trey. Coleman contributed a big basket on a power play inside and Knox had a critical tip-in in the second half.
Gottfried said he liked what Hillman was doing defensively and that it was hard to take him out. As a result, Hillman played 16 minutes and Gee (who finished with just one point and two rebounds) only six minutes in the second half. Hillman had eight points. Riley, who held Arkansas' Patrick Beverley to 2-11 field goal shooting (0-4 on threes) and just five rebounds, was also cited by Gottfried for his defensive play.
Even with Jemison making all five of his free throws, the Tide had another terrible night from the foul line. Still, the 13-24 performance provided the margin of victory. Arkansas was also bad on free throws, 9-16.
And both teams were poor from the field, Alabama hitting 22 of 54 (including 2-10 on treys) and Arkansas 22-61 (and 3-21 three-pointers). Alabama had a slim 42-40 advantage in rebounds. Alabama led by 26-23 in a lackluster first half. The teams "exploded" for 33 points each in the second half.
The Razorbacks scored the first four points of the game and that was Arkansas' largest lead. Alabama had as much as a six-point lead.
Arkansas had defeated Alabama by a 71-67 margin in overtime in the game at Fayetteville in mid-January. Ironically, a key to Bama's loss in that game was Demetrius Jemison losing control of a rebound on a missed Arkansas free throw.
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