Never Give Up Vs. Gamecocks
Last week in Columbia, Alabama trailed South Carolina by 14 points, including falling behind by 11-0 to start the game. Thursday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in the opening game of the SEC Tournament, the Crimson Tide trailed the Gamecocks by 18 points with under 12 minutes to play.
In both cases, Bama rallied to win. It was particularly important Thursday. A loss, and it might have been the end of the season for Alabama. Instead, with an improbable 68-63 decision, the Crimson Tide continues its season in the tournament, and may have helped its hopes for post-season NIT play.
For now, there is the most difficult of assignments for Alabama. The Crimson Tide, which has now won three consecutive games for the first time since the end of pre-conference play, moves to the quarterfinals against the SEC regular season champion Kentucky Wildcats. Bama improved its record to 17-14. The Wildcats, ranked third in the nation, are 29-2. Tipoff Friday will be at noon CST.
Alabama Coach Anthony Grant and Kentucky Coach John Calipari are both in their first seasons as head coaches at SEC schools. Calipari, though, has a team of all-stars, including two freshmen (guard John Wall and center DeMarcus Cousins) who are considered the best players in the league.
Earlier this year, Alabama played Kentucky a very close game at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The final score was Kentucky 66, Alabama 55, but the game was in single digits until the final moments.
Alabama will be a considerable underdog as it goes for its 1,500th all-time victory.
For the final four minutes of the first half and the first eight minutes of the second half, it appeared that Alabama was attempting to set an SEC Tournament record: Most overconfidence by a team that isn't very good. Exuding nonchalance, the Crimson Tide gave every indication it would be the first team bounced from the tournament.
South Carolina's lead ballooned from three points to 11 points in the final four minutes before halftime. The Tide hardly came from the dressing room like a March lion. The Gamecocks scored the first four points of the second half, and then used a fast-paced, attacking offense to build the margin to 18 at 52-34. That advantage stayed 18 after an exchange of baskets before Alabama started its comeback.
Charvez Davis started it with a three-point shot. JaMychal Green made a nice move to score on an under-the-basket inbounds play. With 9:45 to play Davis hit another three-pointer. Mikhail Torrance, who had been luke warm at best offensively, heated up. He got the ball on a fast break and drove the lane to cut the margin to eight points at 54-46 with 9:18 to play.
The Gamecocks got it back to 10 on a pair of free throws, but then Alabama went on another spurt. Torrance had another drive, Mitchell hit a free throw, and Justin Knox put in a layup to cut the lead to five at 56-51 with 7:21 to play.
South Carolina was still up by five when Torrance hit a pair of free throws with 2:59 to play. Seconds later, Mitchell forced an over-and-back and Knox made a short shot to cut the lead to one point at 59-58.
After forcing a five-second count turnover on a Gamecocks' inbounds play, Alabama had a chance to take the lead and did at 2:03 to play. Torrance made a nice pass to Mitchell under the basket who laid it in for a 60-59 advantage. A half minute later Torrance drove for a layup and a 62-59 lead.
Alabama had outscored South Carolina 26-5 in less than 10 minutes of playing time.
The game would be tied at 62-62, but Torrance had another drive and Alabama had the lead for good.
Torrance finished with 17 points to lead Alabama. Knox had 16 points and Green 10. Davis had nine points with three three-pointers. Mitchell had eight points and eight rebounds.
South Carolina's Devan Downey was the game's leading scorer with 21 points, but he had a huge miss with 18 seconds to play. Bama had a 64-62 lead when Downey, better than an 80 per cent free throw shooter, went to the line for two tosses. He missed the first, preserving Alabama's one-point lead. The Gamecocks pressed, and Alabama got the ball down court to a wide open Green for a dunk and three-point lead with 9.5 seconds to play. South Carolina's hurry-up effort was thwarted by freshman Tony Mitchell, who intercepted a pass and was fouled. He made two free throws, the final points of the game, for a five-point lead with 6.3 seconds to play.
Grant said, "I couldn't be prouder of our guys, just the fight that they showed tonight. Our guys showed great toughness even when things were going bad, to stay together and fight and do the things that really we worked on in terms of building all year."
As it has been all year, the Tide's defense was the difference maker in the game. After the Gamecocks shot 41.7 per cent (15-of-36) from the field in the first half, Alabama limited South Carolina to just 29.6 per cent (8-of-27) shooting in the second half for an overall mark of 23-63, 36.5 per cent. South Carolina made 3-10 three-pointers, 30 per cent. Alabama shot 30 per cent (9-30) from the field in the first half, but came alive in the second frame, connecting on 50 per cent (13-26) of its field goals. Overall, Bama was 22-56, 39.3 per cent.
Alabama had much greater success at the free throw line, making 21-26 to South Carolina's 14-20. Bama out-rebounded the Gamecocks, 42-40. South Carolina had 13 turnovers (which the Tide turned into 15 points), while Alabama had 12 turnovers (13 SC points).
"We knew the second half it was going to come down to our style of play," Torrance said. "Their shots were coming up short, and that's when I knew we had them and just to continue to execute down the stretch."
With four minutes to play in the first half, Alabama trailed by three points, but had Torrance—the SEC's best free throw shooter—at the line for a one-and-one. Torrance missed the first shot, leaving the score South Carolina 27, Alabama 24.
Over those next four minutes the Gamecocks regularly beat Alabama down court for easy baskets and South Carolina extended the lead to 11 points, 38-27 at halftime. Although Downey scored the last four points of the half for South Carolina, most of that last four-minute spurt came with the Gamecocks' star on the sidelines.
It marked only the second time this season Alabama trailed by double digits at intermission. (Kansas State led 42-24 over the Tide in Mobile at halftime and went on to an 87-74 win over Alabama on Dec. 19.) Bama's only points in the last four minutes came on a three-point shot by Davis. It was Bama's only three-pointer in five first half attempts. For the game Bama would be 3-8, all the mades by Davis.
The first half had been back-and-forth through the first 16 minutes. Bama scored the first four points of the game, but had its last lead at 14-12 midway through the period. South Carolina took the lead for good at 16-14 as Sam Muldrow scored on back-to-back short baskets. Muldrow, who came into the game averaging 10 points an outing, scored 13 in the first half. He would be held scoreless in the second half.
In Alabama's win at South Carolina, junior Justin Knox started in place of the suspended JaMychal Green and Knox had a career-best 17 points. Knox also got the start against the Gamecocks Thursday and responded with 16 points, second best in his career. Green did score his first basket of the month. He did not have a field goal in Bama's last regular season game against Auburn, but put in a short basket in the first half against South Carolina en route to 10 points.
With the win, Alabama moves to 58-43 all-time in SEC tournament play, and 42-26 since the tourney was reinstated in 1979. They now rank second among SEC schools in SEC tourney wins (58) behind leader Kentucky (111).
The Tide is goes to 3-2 all-time vs. South Carolina in SEC tourney play. Alabama moves to 2-2 in SEC tourney games played in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
It also marks Alabama's second straight win over South Carolina this year after topping the Gamecocks 79-70 on March 3 in Columbia. Alabama also used a big second-half comeback in the earlier win, fighting back from a 14-point deficit.
Alabama went 6:08 without a field goal from the 2:22 mark of the first half to the 16:14 mark of the second half. The Gamecock margin went from five to 16 points during the Bama drought.
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