ATLANTA - Alabama ended Ole Miss' run in the SEC Tournament here Friday. Better yet, make that Earnest Shelton ended it.
Shelton, the 6-foot-3 junior guard from Memphis, almost single-handedly assured that his Crimson Tide team would be playing in the semis on Saturday, scoring 26 points, eight of them from 3-point range, for a 69-52 victory.
"This was our first day in the arena, and I remember shooting well here last year," said Shelton, an All-SEC first-team selection by the coaches and Alabama's second-leading scorer this season. "I was hoping I could have a repeat performance. I had a lot of shots that I could feel by my release that they were going in. I give credit to my teammates for opening up those shots."
Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes gave Shelton all the credit for making those shots, and he said stopping him was no easy task.
"Earnest Shelton shot the basketball really well today," Barnes said. "We put a lot of people on him, but he just seemed to be able to score anyway."
Alabama had other contributors in its 17-point win as well with Chuck Davis scoring 15 and Jean Felix 10. But is was Shelton who made the difference with his outside shooting.
"We had some big shots at some timely moments from Ernest Shelton," Crimson Tide Coach Mark Gottfried said. "He really stepped up for us today in a game that we didn't necessarily play that well. Our defense also stepped up big at times."
The game was close for most of the first half. The Rebels, seeded fifth in the West, battled toe to toe with the Western Division's top seed. A Tommie Eddie layup with 5:07 left in the first half gave Ole Miss an 18-16 advantage. On the next trip downcourt, the Tide moved ahead on a 3-point basket by Shelton for a 19-18 Bama lead.
Ed Glass, who had a good tourney for the Rebels with 14 points today and 15 yesterday in a 53-52 UM win over South Carolina, scored on a jumper in the lane on Ole Miss' next trip downcourt for a 20-19 lead with 4:03 left before the break. But the Tide answered with another 3-pointer by - you guessed it - Shelton for a 22-20 Alabama edge, a lead it never relinquished the rest of the game. The Tide led 27-21 at the break.
Things were getting out of hand for Ole Miss before the Rebels made a run. A Kennedy Winston jump shot gave his team a 43-29 lead with 14:03 to go in the game. But the Rebels then began to chip away at the deficit.
When Eddie nailed an outside jumper from some 16 feet with 8:46 left, the Rebels were within five points at 48-43. But that was as close as they would come as Alabama outscored the Rebels 21-9 the rest of the way.
"This was a good win for our team," said Gottfried, whose team now faces Florida in the semis as the Gators defeated Mississippi State 80-64. "We didn't play our best. Ole Miss had a lot to do with that. They are tough with their defense and don't give you any easy baskets."
Glass said slowing Shelton down was a tall order.
"We tried to make every shot difficult for them," Glass said. "We did the best we could, but they just got good shots and made plays. It seemed like everything he (Shelton) threw up was going down."
The Rebels, led by Eddie's 19 points, end the season 14-17, while Alabama moves on at 24-6.
The Tide shot 44 percent, including 52 percent from 3-point range. The Rebs were 40 percent for the game, and 42 percent behind the arc.
Ole Miss had a good day at the free throw line, going 9-10, while Alabama was 10-19. The Rebels actually had the better of the boards with 32 rebounds to 31.
"I am sad for our seniors that their season and careers end today," said Barnes, whose program loses Eddie, Glass, Cavadas Nunnery, Kendrick Fox, Marvin Moore, Justin Johnson, and Chris Rhodes, who broke his foot three games ago against LSU and ended his UM career on crutches. "The seniors have given a lot to this team and program, and I hope they have great success after college, just as they hope we have great success as a team next season."
*** Editor's notes: Barnes said assistant coach Tracy Dildy would return to Ole Miss next season. There had been some rumors Dildy would become a head coach somewhere.
A year-end wrap and a look ahead will follow on this site in the next few days.
Rebs end season with loss to Bama
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