Alabama at Ole Miss
In a game that Alabama (19-11, 11-6 SEC) needed to help ensure itself a double bye in next week’s SEC Tournament, and help make a case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was the Ole Miss Rebels (22-8, 11-6 SEC) that looked like the more desperate team early, by racing out to a big early lead then holding on at the end to keep their own NCAA Tourney hopes alive. The Rebels used a big game from Jr. guard, Marshall Henderson, who had 24 points to lead the Rebels. Henderson had a lot of help from his teammates, Ladarius White, Jarvis Summers, and Derick Millinghaus. White scored 17, Summers, 14, and Millinghaus added 11. Teammates weren’t the only helpers on this night. The Tide was very generous in committing 17 turnovers. 13 in the 1st half. Turnovers, and I thought an uncharacteristic lack of attention to detail defensively, cost Alabama this game in the 1st half. The turnovers were enough, but Bama wasn’t getting anything done on either side of the floor. Defensively, the Tide looked lost and slow at times, as Henderson and company seemed to have open looks at the hoop all night. Yet, with all of that, Bama trailed by 12 at the half and I thought they were fortunate to be that close.
To start the 2nd half, it was more of the same from Bama. The Tide only turned the ball over 4 times in the 2nd half, but defensively, things were no better. The Rebels finished the game shooting 55% from the field. Still, even after leading by 19 at one point, Ole Miss could not totally put Bama away. Bama, down double digits with 3 minutes remaining went on a furious rally with full court pressure, that yielded a barrage of 3 pointers from Trevor Lacey, Trevor Releford, and Rodney Cooper to cut the lead down to 3, 86-83 with 5 seconds to go. Alabama could get no closer, as Ole Miss was able to make their free throws and secure the 87-83 win. Lacey, led Bama with 19. Nick Jacobs, had anoher productive game with a career high 18 points. Releford chipped in 16, and Rodney Cooper added 12.
Seeing Bama go on the run at the end of the game, by turning up the tempo is going to yield a lot of questions toward Anthony Grant. Alabama’s, deliberate half court style is not the style Grant had his teams use at VCU. So, why is Grant coaching Bama so differently? I have my theories. The one characteristic that Nolan Richardson’s teams at Arkansas, Mike Anderson’s teams at UAB and Missoui and others that run that in your face, full court press, up and down the court style is all of those teams played a lot of players. Bama, has a full complement of players, but after the season ending injury to Carl Engstrom, Bama was left with 9 scholarship players. The rest are walk-ons. Two of those 9 guys are big men, Moussa Gueye and Nick Jacobs. I think this is a major reason for the slower, more half court style. I think Grant is also wary of how inept this team can be shooting the ball. He doesn’t want to get into up and down the court games with a team that can’t put the ball in the basket. That being said, I still think it’s a bright spot to have Nick Jacobs playing well. The Rebels were forced to double and even triple team him in the 2nd half. With contributions like that from Jacobs, those perimeter shots will be more open, and Bama proved tonight it can knock down some shots. Now, the Tide needs consistency.
The bigger question for me is the lack of urgency from Bama players tonight. Ole Miss looked like a team playing for it’s life tonight, while Bama looked like it didn’t care at times. This was a very winnable game that Bama got too far behind in to be able to catch up. I don’t think the NCAA Tourney is completely out of the question, but it will take a win over Georgia and a hope that Bama meets up with Florida or Mizzou in the semifinals to have a chance at a quality win. Of course, winning the tourney looks like the best option right now.