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By Chris DePew
Feb. 7, 2017
In one of the gutsiest, strangest and longest games in program history, Alabama survived blowing a 16-point halftime lead, overcame having three players foul out and somehow outlasted No. 19 South Carolina for a 90-86 road victory in four overtimes.
What did we learn today?: How tenacious the Crimson Tide can be even when the odds are deeply unfavorable. Bama has become highly reliant on Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram to make the offense go, but the freshmen both fouled out before the end of regulation with only 13 combined points. And while it looked like the offense was dead in the water multiple times after regulation, Alabama was able to tread water thanks to career scoring nights from Avery Johnson Jr. (23 points) and Ar’Mond Davis (19), and by the end the Tide scored 33 points in overtime – more than it did in either half of regulation. And while there was no way Bama could duplicate its first-half defensive effort, when the Gamecocks made only three of their 30 field goal attempts, it held South Carolina to just over 26 percent from the field and withstood giving up 35 points at the foul line to knock the SEC leaders down to a three-way tie for first place.
What was the best part of the game?: The Gamecocks looked like they had finally salted the game away in the second overtime with a 70-63 lead going into the final two minutes, before Alabama pulled off an out-of-nowhere 8-0 run. Riley Norris made a jumper while being fouled and sank his free throw, then dished it to Davis in the corner on the next possession for a 3-pointer. Johnson then stole the ball with less than a minute left and drove for a layup to give the Tide the lead. Bama couldn’t close the game out then, but it stayed alive to fight another round.
Who was the star?: Johnson isn’t a prolific long-range shooter, but he made five of his 10 3-point tries against the nation’s best perimeter defense, and also came up with six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Forced into playing heavy minutes in overtime, Davis stretched his game beyond lobbing up deep treys to drive the paint and went 3-for-5 from 2-point range and 4-for-6 from the line, in addition to sinking a trio of 3-pointers. Norris overcame another rough shooting night to add 11 points and also lead the Crimson Tide in rebounds (14) and assists (four). And while this isn’t normally the spot to highlight opponents, guard Sindarius Thornwell may have clinched SEC Player of the Year in a losing effort. A conference record 33 free throw attempts produced 25 of his 44 points to go with 21 rebounds. The 6-foot-5 senior even gave a credible effort as a de facto post player in overtime once South Carolina’s big men had fouled out.
What were the biggest concerns?: Only getting 11 assists would be a red flag in a 40-minute game, much less one this epic. Truthfully, Bama almost seemed afraid to pass after regulation, as the Gamecocks made life miserable to the tune of 24 turnovers, including 11 steals. At the end of each of the first three overtimes the Tide had the ball with the shot clock off, and each possession ended in an isolation play with a low-percentage jump shot clanging harmlessly off the rim. South Carolina has the best defense in the SEC, but Bama was fortunate to be playing a team that so closely resembles its own style, and it isn’t clear whether this win will translate against faster teams with more polished offenses.
What’s next?: Alabama heads home for another high-stakes game against a conference leader, this time No. 15 Kentucky. Tipoff from Coleman Coliseum is Saturday at noon Central on CBS.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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