No. 11 Alabama set to take on South Dakota State after impressive trip to Portland

Mathey Gibson, Staff Reporter

Last Sunday, Alabama basketball put the country on notice with its thrilling 103-101, four-overtime defeat of then-No. 1 North Carolina. In a game that had viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end, the Crimson Tide (6-1) reigned victorious in a performance that could swing momentum in its favor heading into a grueling slate of top-25 matchups. 

A little under a week later, Nate Oats’ team must first conquer the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in Tuscaloosa on Saturday before looking ahead to a matchup with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 10. 

Led by head coach Eric Henderson, the Jackrabbits (3-5) currently sit below. 500, having lost to Akron, Arkansas, Stephen F. Austin, James Madison and Kent State. 

A fast-paced team that loves to create offense behind the arc, Henderson’s fourth-year squad currently ranks 71st nationally in adjusted tempo and 161st in 3-point percentage.  

While South Dakota State has struggled so far in 2022-23, the Jackrabbits have a track record of being one of the more dominant mid-major programs in the country — finishing last season with a record of 30-5. 

“We told our guys, this is a maturity game, the mature player is going to be ready to go,” Oats said on Friday. “We’re seven games in, we’re guaranteed 32 games, that’s it. We don’t have games to throw away. This game Saturday is a big game to see who can be mature.” 

While South Dakota State lost 3-point specialist Baylor Scheierman to Creighton in the offseason, returning is starting point guard Zeke Mayo, who scored 12 points in last season’s 104-88 loss to Alabama.  

A 6-foot-3 guard from Lawrence, Kansas, the sophomore is currently averaging 12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists to kick off his campaign. 

Ahead of its matchup with the once preseason Summit League favorites, the Crimson Tide could be without one of their key cogs in forward Noah Clowney, who left the game against North Carolina in the first half after a hard fall under the basket. 

“On the injury front, Clowney has practiced a little bit today,” Oats said Friday. “We’ll see how he feels after it tomorrow. He had a pretty bad contusion back there that’s taken awhile. He had tingling down his leg for most of that North Carolina game and definitely couldn’t play in that game. We’ve kind of held him out this week — most of the week — trying to get him to see if he can go. He’ll be a game-time decision.” 

Clowney, a 6-foot-10 freshman, has stepped into an immediate role in Tuscaloosa — ranking second on the team in rebounds (7.9) while providing a consistent defensive presence. 

“A guy like Noah Clowney, it’s like you’re talking to a 23-year-old, not 18,” Oats said. “Brandon Miller seems to be handling the press and notoriety, he’s got a good way about him. He treats people great. It’s rare to have all four freshmen as mature as we have.” 

Clowney isn’t the only one dealing with injuries, though. After exiting the game, seated alongside him on the bench in the North Carolina game were Dominick Welch and Darius Miles. 

“Dom Welch is still day-to-day,” Oats said. “Trying to get his calf healed up. It’s just kind of a long-healing injury, if you will. … Other than that, we should be good to go for tomorrow on the injury front. Darius is back with us. He looked good in practice last couple of days, so that’s where we’re at.” 

Banged up and battle-tested, the Crimson Tide will now seek to avoid an upset of epic proportions on its home court. 

Tipoff between No. 11 Alabama and South Dakota State in Coleman Coliseum is set for Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network+. 

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]