One player never wins a basketball game. All wins are team efforts, but Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Noah Gurley saved the Alabama basketball team. Gurley had help, but without his grit throughout, all the help would not have been enough.
Given the circumstances, the season-opener for the Crimson Tide was a must-win game. The Tide began conference play having lost two of its last three games. It could not afford another loss to start the SEC season. In addition, beating a very good Tennessee team was another important resume builder. The Vols were ripe for the taking, having left two starters in Knoxville. With the Vols having their leading scorer, Kennedy Chandler and arguably their second-best player, super senior John Fulkerson unavailable; the Crimson Tide had to win.
For much of the game, it appeared the Crimson Tide was not up to the task. It took late reversals of fortune, in each half, for the Tide to get the victory. Trailing by 10 points with 3:23 left in the first half, the Tide closed with a 10-0 run to tie the game at 33-33. With six minutes left in the game, Tennessee led by six. The rest of the way, the Crimson Tide outscored the Vols 16-5. The final score was Alabama Basketball 73 – Tennessee 68.
Noah Gurley was a surprise – no make that a shock. Written off by many Alabama basketball fans as a transfer bust, Gurley was outstanding against the Vols. Days before Nate Oats predicted upcoming strong performances from his 6’8″ forward. Whatever led to the transformation, on Wednesday night, Gurley was the most solid and most productive player for the Tide. He led the team with 20 points, 10 rebounds and a late, game-changing block.
It took more than Gurley to overcome the Tide’s 23 percent three-point shooting. Jahvon Quinerly had 18 points. Though he shot poorly for the game, Jaden Shackelford added 12 points, including a key three and another basket in the closing minutes. Keon Ellis had nine points, plus nine rebounds and five assists.
Neither team shot well from outside the arc. Alabama was so bad from long-range, three of the 31 attempts failed to draw iron. The Tide also struggled at the foul line, shooting 67 percent to 85 percent for the Vols. An eight-rebound advantage played a large part in the Crimson Tide victory.
In many ways, the Crimson Tide did not play well enough to win. But it also played too well to lose. Noah Gurley, Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis and Jaden Shackelford refused to lose.
Next for Alabama Basketball is another important game in a road trip to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators on Wednesday, Jan. 5.