Having lost the last six times it's played there, Alabama has not won in Memorial Gym since 1990. And Mark Gottfried has never a game there as head coach of the Tide. "It's a tough place to play, but I was proud of our guys and how we competed," he said afterwards. We just ran into a team tonight that had not in all 12 of their (previous) games made the shots they were making tonight."
With the loss Alabama's record drops to 11-2, 1-1 in the SEC. Vanderbilt stands at 8-5, 1-1 in conference. The Tide returns to action next Wednesday when Mississippi State travels to Coleman Coliseum for another league game.
Not at all known previously for their long-range shooting, Saturday the Commodores shot 8-for-13 (62 percent) from behind the three-point arc. "We did a pretty good job contesting their shots most of the time," Gottfried said. "But there were a few of those during the game that they just had not made before. Against Indiana Vandy went 1-for-15 from the three-point line. But tonight they made shots."
Alabama struggled to find any offensive rhythm in the first half, falling behind by as many as 11 points. But after intermission the Tide actually held the lead several times, only to fall short. Gottfried commented. "In the second half we shot 57 percent to help ourselves, but we hurt ourselves at the foul line. Typically we're a very good foul shooting team, but we missed a bunch of them. We were 8-for-15, and three of our misses were the front ends of 1-and-1s, where you have the opportunity to get two points. Throughout the course of a 40-minute game, those haunt you.
"Playing on the road, we've got to shoot our foul shots better and take advantage of the opportunities we get."
Tide point guard Mo Williams hit several late three-pointers to keep Bama in the game. Williams led all scorers with 23 points and also contributed five assists. Kenny Walker had 16 points. Forward Matt Freije led Vanderbilt with 19.
Facing double-teams all night, Bama's Erwin Dudley managed only nine points. "They did a good job of fronting Erwin and putting a guy behind him," Gottfried explained. "Teams are going to do that. When that happens, a sign of a good team is for somebody else to score. It can't be one guy every night.
"Tonight we had enough opportunities; we just need to capitalize on them."
In last Wednesday's win over Arkansas, Kennedy Winston saw his first collegiate action since being cleared to play by the NCAA, and the true freshman forward got his first start Saturday. Aggressive on the offensive end, Winston finished with 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting. He also contributed five rebounds.
"(Starting a true freshman for the first time on the road) is hard to do, but we have to do it," Gottfried explained afterwards. "Kennedy has to get in there. He has to play in a tough environment and in pressure situations. It's a unique situation to have a freshman that hadn't played a game this late in the season, but I think he gives us something that we need. He's getting to the rim. He's making some tough shots. He's penetrating and getting to the line.
Winston is normally an excellent free-throw shooter, but in front of the Vanderbilt crowd he went an uncharacteristic 2-for-6 at the line. "If he had a good foul shooting night, then he would have had 18-20 points in this game," Gottfried said. "I was proud of how he went at it."
Though they've now dropped two conference games in a row, Mississippi State still represents Bama's toughest opposition in the SEC's Western Division. But a late injury to reserve point guard Antoine Pettway could mean the Tide will face the Bulldogs shorthanded.
"I'm concerned about Antoine," Gottfried said after Saturday's game. "He rolled his ankle pretty good. It looks pretty severe, but we've got to get ready to play. Obviously Mississippi State is a great team."