Alabama Tries Hard, But Beaten Again

There's a story making the rounds in Southeastern Conference basketball coverage that an assistant coach at one SEC school confided, "If you are struggling, you want to have Alabama coming up on your schedule". Coach Mark Gottfried's Crimson Tide was just what the doctor ordered for Mississippi Saturday in Oxford, although Bama came close to making it a bitter pill for the Rebs.



Alabama seemed to be the Tide that could roll over and play dead as Ole Miss had its way with Bama for most of the second half. The Rebels had a 15-point lead with under two minutes to play. With about six seconds to play the Tide's Senario Hillman, who had a fabulous final two minutes, made a steal and had a three-point shot in the air that could have tied the game. It didn't hit, though, and the Rebels had a 91-88 victory.

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried understandably was frustrated by the curious ending to the game. SEC basketball officiating often is unusual, and thus it was in Oxford. Hillman's miss was rebounded by the Rebels. Alabama quickly fouled him and the clock finally stopped with 2.5 seconds to play. But officials had not blown a whistle to call the foul and stop play and the officials rule the game was over.

An SEC coach is not permitted to criticize officials, so Gottfried said he was going to be careful in his remarks. But he said he looked at the videotape replay before commenting. He said, ". I watched the tape and we fouled with four and a half seconds to play and they let the game run out. You play the game out. We just decided not to play the last four and a half seconds of the game, and that's frustrating. I feel bad about that for our players."

As Gottfried conceded, Alabama was still in an unlikely position. Ole Miss would be shooting two free throws with a three-point lead and only 4.5 seconds to play. But, he pointed out, strange things happen, and that's why the game is played to the very end.

Mississippi had lost six of its last eight games before Saturday.

Alabama freshmen Hillman and Rico Pickett and sophomore Demetrius Jemison were leaders in that furious comeback effort. Mykal Riley had a nice scoring game, too. Bama was trying to come back with Richard Hendrix on the bench because of fouls and Alonzo Gee continuing in his slump.

Alabama was down by 88-73 as the confident Mississippi fans emptied Tad Smith Coliseum as the clock ticked under two minutes. Then Hillman made three treys and two free throws and had two steals; Riley and Pickett had treys; Jemison had a putback. And Bama was on the verge of pulling off the impossible.

To its credit, the Rebels hit 11 of l12 free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.

Alabama and Ole Miss, along with Auburn and LSU, came into Saturday with 4-9 records, which was tied for third and also tied for last in the SEC Western Division. Now all four have two games remaining in the battle for SEC Tournament seedings. The Rebels improved to 19-9 overall. Bama fell to 15-14 overall and Bama is 0-7 in conference road games.

Alabama continues on the road at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday at LSU. The Tide will close out its home schedule next Saturday when Bama hosts Vanderbilt in a 1 p.m. CST game that will be regionally telecast.

Alabama had a five-point lead shortly before halftime. A combination of turnovers and fouls enabled Ole Miss to tie the game, 38-38 at intermission. Crimson Tide halftime adjustments didn't stop the bleeding. In fact, Bama came out hemorrhaging. Alabama got a shot blocked then had a pair of turnovers as the Rebels scored the first seven points in the second half.

Bama was staggered and didn't recover until it was really too late. The Rebels extended the lead to as much as 15 points and stayed in complete control, leading by at least 10 points throughout until Bama went to the two-minute drill .

Ole Miss had a terrific shooting half after intermission. There were a handful of unguarded three-point shots, which almost every team gets against the Bama defense. The Rebels hit six of seven in the second half from behind the arc. And there were many easy shots by the Rebels' inside players, who were allowed to catch the ball without interference. . (The Rebs' Dwayne Curtis had 10 points totaling about five inches in the first 10 minutes after halftime.) And there were easy breakout layups for Mississippi.

Despite the loss, and primarily because of the desperate comeback, Gottfried said, "I'm really proud of our guys," even while conceding "there were some things we didn't do well, like defense around the rim. In the second half our defense around the rim was not very good. We were in foul trouble, but we were just not guarding them."

Alabama outscored the Rebels from the field. Alabama hit 31 of 61 field goals (51 per cent), including 9-22 on three-pointers (41 per cent). The rebels hit 30 of 53 shots (57 per cent) and 8-15 treys (53 per cent). The difference was at the free throw line. Even though Alabama made 17-22, a very good (for Bama) 77 per cent, the Tide missed the front ends of several 1-and-1 opportunities. Meanwhile. Ole Miss got its winning margin by making 23 of 28 from the foul line, 82 per cent.

Alabama was led by Riley with 20 points. Jemison picked up where he left off in the previous game as he scored 17 points, two under his career high. Pickett and Hillman had 13 points each. Hendrix had 10 points.

Ole Miss freshman point guard Chris Warren had 25 points and Rebels low post Dwayne Curtis had 24.

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