The Alabama Crimson Tide (9-6, 1-1 SEC) picked up their first conference win at home against the Tennessee Volunteers (8-6, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday afternoon. The Tide pulled away from the Volunteers late in what proved to be a back and forth contest throughout the game.
Defense and superb guard play proved to be the difference for Alabama down the stretch. With the loss of Carl Engstrom earlier this year to a torn ACL, Alabama has been barren on the low block. Anthony Grant knew that coming in and he played to his advantage all game.
The Tide came out with essentially a four-guard starting lineup and Coach Grant went with the smaller lineup for the duration of the game. Moussa Gueye and Nick Jacobs have had foul problems in recent memory, so Grant was very careful to keep one big man on reserve at all times.
Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey once again led the Crimson Tide’s scoring attack. Releford finished with 15 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal. He also was perfect from the free throw line (5-5), which proved to be the difference late in the game. Trevor Lacey added with 15 points, 2 assists, and 4 rebounds. Levi Randolph also finished in double digits with 12 points.
Andrew Steele was the difference for the Crimson Tide on Saturday. Steele finished with a season high 11 points and 4 steals. Steele’s solid defense allowed Alabama to pull away when he forced two consecutive turnovers that resulted in transition scores.
Tennessee dominated Alabama on the glass, out-rebounding the Tide 38-22. If Alabama plans to compete in conference play, this will be a stat to watch. By no means does Alabama have to win the rebounding battle, but it’s hard to win in conference play when you are out rebounded by sixteen rebounds. Nick Jacobs and Moussa Gueye only combined for 8 of Alabama’s 22 rebounds. Levi Randolph led the team with 6 rebounds. The Crimson Tide can’t rely on guard play to bail them out night in and night out.
Anthony Grant also went with a much simpler rotation on Saturday. Andrew Steele, Devonta Pollard, and Moussa Gueye were the only three players to come off the bench for the Tide.
Alabama isn’t out of the water by far, but they were able to get a big win in a must win situation. The road to the top of the SEC will be an uphill battle for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide proved that they can hang on and win a close game.
The Tide will travel to Starkville to face Mississippi State (6-7, 1-0 SEC) on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs have been very inconsistent to start of the year, but Humphrey Coliseum can always be a very dangerous place during conference play.
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