It might sound funny, but Alabama is in second place in the SEC after beating South Carolina 68-58 Saturday.
The Crimson Tide (17-8, 9-3 SEC) has only scored more than 60 points in two games this season—today against the Gamecocks (12-13, 2-10), and in a 75-43 win over Mississippi State on Jan. 16—but there they sit, in second place in the conference behind No. 7 Florida (21-3, 11-1).
In the final minutes of Saturday’s game at Coleman Coliseum, it looked like Alabama might breach the 50 percent mark for field goal shooting, but it shot 46.8 at game’s end. The Tide has only shot over 50 in one conference game this season, which was also against MSU, who the Tide faces for a second time Wednesday. The Bulldogs are currently in last place in the SEC.
Earlier Saturday, the Gators beat Auburn 83-52. But just four games ago, the Tigers beat Bama 49-37. It’s mind boggling that a team who scores only 37 points in a game and can’t break 60 for an entire month could be in sole possession of second place in its conference.
Last week, Kentucky, who was previously tied with Alabama for second place, lost star Nerlens Noel to an ACL tear. Today, the Wildcats’ downward spiral without their best player began when Tennessee beat them by 30 points.
The Tide has six games left before the SEC tournament begins, and as it looks right now, the title is up for grabs.
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who grew up playing basketball with Alabama head coach Anthony Grant at Miami Senior High School, called the Crimson Tide an “elite” team.
“They are in it and they aren’t going anywhere,” Martin said. “It’s the team that plays that defense that they play—a team that plays with the unity and the passion they play with—they are in. They will make a run at this league title here now.”
Alabama has now won five of its last six games with today’s margin of victory being the widest. The Tide got off to a fast start and held a 23-point lead with 5:55 left in the first half. The Gamecocks ended the first half on an 11-0 run, cutting the Tide’s lead to 35-24 at the break, but though play was up and down, like it has been all season, the Tide came up with the win in the end.
“We played well in spurts, didn’t play well in other spurts, but we got the win,” Grant said.
Guard Trevor Lacey, who led Alabama with 17 points, was asked how it felt to score more than 60 points for just the second time in conference play this season.
“We got easy shots, we weren’t hesitant,” he said. “We were more aggressive, trying to score early in the shot clock. That’s something coach has been working on with us this week. Being aggressive from the jump.”
Alabama moved the ball well around the perimeter in the first half and went 6-of-14 from 3-point range, but was 0-for-5 in the second. The Tide also continued to struggle from the free throw line, hitting just 18-of-33 shots (54.5 percent).
“We had a contagious bad free throw day,” Grant said. “We missed some at the end of the first half and it trickled down and we missed some in the second half.”
Despite this rollercoaster persona Alabama has taken on, a win is a win and this team is in second place in the SEC with winnable games ahead.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Grant said, not wanting to put too much into the conference standings. “Obviously we can’t control what everyone else [in the league] does. We gotta take care of ourselves.”
Andrew Steele did not play against South Carolina due to discomfort in his right ankle. Grant said he’s been experiencing pain for the last month and although he could have played today, Grant and the Alabama medical staff made a decision to keep him on the bench. He is listed as day-to-day.
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