‘Always good to get a win’: Alabama remains unchallenged at the top of the SEC

The Bulldogs tried to spoil Alabama’s perfect SEC season. They failed.


Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics

The road to an undefeated Southeastern Conference (SEC) regular season is long, but Alabama men’s basketball continued silencing the skeptics Saturday night. After winning four of the last five games by 15 or more points, the Crimson Tide hosted a closer match against Mississippi State at Coleman Coliseum.

Alabama topped Mississippi State 81-73 and controlled the lead for the vast majority of the game. Rookies on the team aren’t used to buzzer beaters, but senior forwards Herb Jones and Alex Reese have seen defeat a time or two. They wouldn’t let this game turn out like so many disappointments in the past.

“It is always good to get a win,” coach Nate Oats said. “I think it was good to play in a close game as well. We have been hitting shots at a pretty good pace and blowing teams out, so it was good to get in a late-game situation.”

The young players on the team learned another valuable lesson in perseverance.

Freshman guard Josh Primo has ascended into a key player for the Crimson Tide in the absence of sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly, who missed a couple of games and has since had a more limited role due to an undisclosed medical condition. Primo is averaging nine points per game this season and had 16 points against the Bulldogs. Reese complemented Primo during the postgame press conference but said the young guard is still hesitant to fill Quinerly’s shoes.

“I think every shot [Primo] takes is going to go in,” said senior forward Alex Reese, who scored 11 points. “After the game, he told me he should’ve passed it to me, but I told him that he shouldn’t have.”

Seven and a half minutes through the first half, Mississippi State capped off a 13-3 run and was on top of a struggling Crimson Tide offense. Alabama went 1-7 shooting and had three turnovers. But the tone on the court stayed consistent with its SEC schedule: competitive.

In the Alabama versus LSU matchup on Jan. 19, the Crimson Tide led by 20 to 30 points during the beginning of the second half. Senior John Petty Jr. shot eight for nine from three-point range in the first half, and the team was on pace to shatter the SEC record for most three-pointers in a game. But even though there was no chance of an LSU comeback, the team dove for loose balls, pushed the pace of the game and played like the game was tied with no time left on the clock.

Saturday was different. During the entire game, Alabama held a narrow lead and had to continue to fight off attempts at a Mississippi State upset. Jones and the other senior leaders on the team seemed to enjoy the competition down the stretch of the game.

It was like they had been playing the entire season for that moment.

“Being in games like this teaches us how to stay together regardless of the scoreboard,” Jones said. “It teaches us how to win close games because that is what is going to matter most toward the end of the season.”

Although the game was close throughout the night, Alabama did not give up the lead during the second half. Clutch defense and offense from Petty and Jones capped off any chance of a Bulldog comeback.

Alabama now is onto its toughest four-game stretch of the season. The Crimson Tide will face Kentucky, Oklahoma, LSU and Missouri. After the win Oats made sure to emphasize that this win was great, but there are plenty of more challenges ahead.

“We’ll take the win but we have a tough one coming up here on Tuesday with Kentucky,” Oats said. “[The Wildcats] look like they got their mojo back with the big win over LSU today.”