By Chris DePew
March 14, 2019
Having already erased an earlier 16-point deficit, Alabama scored the last seven points of the game in the last 94 seconds to upset Ole Miss 62-57 and advance to the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Nashville.
What did we learn today?: This team played hard even when it wasn’t playing well and that’s just enough reason to tune in on Selection Sunday. Bama held a pair of all-SEC guards, Breein Tyree and Terence Davis, to just 10 combined points and outrebounded Ole Miss 50-30. But for much of the night it seemed like that effort would go to waste, with the Crimson Tide mired in a shooting slump and turning it over 10 times in the first half alone. But Bama hung around just long enough to work through strange lineup combinations and iffy floor chemistry. First it was Tevin Mack coming off the bench to bury 3-pointers when no one else could. Then the frontcourt started gaining momentum against the undersized Rebels, with Donta Hall and Galin Smith combining for 18 points and 22 rebounds. Finally it was Kira Lewis coming to life, scoring 11 of his 13 points after halftime. With all of that and a closing kick, Alabama gave itself a least a glimmer of hope in the NCAA bubble conversation with its 18th win.
What was the best part of the game?: Getting strong contributions from a pair of surprise starters. Avery Johnson has been battling problems with effort and consistency all season long, and seeing him overhaul the starting five in the 32nd game of the year seemed more like a panic move than a savvy strategy. But Smith, a Mississippi native who hadn’t started since Nov. 29, scored a career-high 11 points and added seven rebounds. His two best games this year have both come in the season sweep of Ole Miss. Riley Norris hadn’t started all year and he was a little too eager to take low-quality shots, but he made up for it with nine rebounds and five assists while playing turnover free in 25 minutes. Johnson wanted a bigger, more-physical lineup to exploit the Rebels’ weakness in the paint and it eventually paid off.
Who was the star?: The only thing that could slow down Mack was an official review at halftime that changed one of his 3-pointers back to a 2-point shot. Otherwise Mack went 8-for-13 from the floor, including four of Alabama’s five treys, and threw in six rebounds for good measure. Like Lewis, he is a defensive liability, but with the Tide desperate for points it found a way to live with those shortcomings.
What were the biggest concerns?: The consensus coming into this tournament was that Bama most likely needed two wins in Nashville to feel comfortable about returning to the big dance, and the shortcomings it was able to paper over in a favorable matchup against Ole Miss will get it run out of the gym by Kentucky. Sixteen turnovers and shooting below 41 percent are not hallmarks of a championship team. Neither is going 9-of-18 from the foul line or getting a combined two field goals from John Petty, Dazon Ingram and Herbert Jones.
What’s next?: Johnson is now 6-3 in SEC tournament games, but all three of those losses are to the Wildcats. Bama gets a crack at a second upset of UK Friday at 6 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris