Effective shooting late lifts Alabama over No. 14 Tennessee in SEC opener

Forward Noah Gurley muscles past a Tennessee defender during Tuesdays game.

Forward Noah Gurley muscles past a Tennessee defender during Tuesday’s game.

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

Tennessee led for almost 28 minutes of the total 40. But with effective shooting by guards Jaden Shackelford and Keon Ellis, No. 19 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-3) defeated No. 14 Volunteers (9-3), 73-68.

Forward Noah Gurley had by far the best performance of his Alabama career, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds to extend Alabama’s home winning streak to 17 games.

“I’m really happy for him [Gurley],” Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “He’s one of the guys putting the most work in on the team. I knew it was only a matter of time for it to pay off.”

Quinerly struggled to shoot from deep, but he got to the basket time after time to add 18 points of his own.

The Volunteers entered Tuscaloosa short-handed after forward John Fulkerson and leading scorer Kennedy Chandler could not play after testing positive for COVID-19. It was announced that the two were unavailable around an hour before tip-off.

But that didn’t stop the team from holding their own on the road.

Alabama jumped out to a 14-9 lead after a Shackelford layup. Tennessee responded with a 24-9 run that spanned the next eight minutes.

When Alabama needed a run the most, it got one.

The Crimson Tide finished the first half scoring 10 unanswered to tie the game at the break.

Alabama shot just 4-for-16 from deep in the first half, but 20 points in the paint kept them afloat. The Crimson Tide also committed eight turnovers, with five coming off the hands of guard JD Davison.

“Sometimes if you make too big a point out of it, it exacerbates the problem,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “He’s a pretty mentally tough kid. You don’t want guys playing and looking at the bench. He doesn’t usually have a big issue with the turnovers.”

The second half was close. Both teams got into foul trouble, and it turned into a “who wants it more” type of game. Tennessee held the largest lead of the second half at 63-57 with just over six minutes to play.

After a 5-0 run, Alabama trimmed the lead to one with 3:36 to go.

After struggling for most of the game, Shackelford set his feet and knocked down a crucial 3-pointer that tied the game at 65 with 2:01 remaining.

On the next Tennessee possession, Gurley blocked forward Uros Plavsic. On the other end, Shackelford made a layup to give the Crimson Tide a two-point lead.

But the Volunteers came back up the court and guard Zakai Zeigler found forward Olivier Nkamhoua, who sunk a 3-pointer to put Tennessee back up one.

Seconds later, Alabama charged down the court and Quinerly found a wide-open Ellis. He drilled a three to give the Crimson Tide a 70-68 lead.

The Volunteers could not answer, and Alabama held on to win its conference opener against one of the top teams in the league.

Tennessee struggled mightily from the field in the second half, making just nine of its 31 second-half shot attempts. Alabama also out-rebounded the Volunteers by eight in the last frame.

“That was a tough game,” Oats said. “You gotta give Tennessee a lot of credit playing without two starters. I told our guys going into the game that when a team’s down a guy or two, everybody picks it up. That’s what happened today. It was one of those games where we struggled to make shots. I thought in the past guys maybe let their defensive intensity go down if their offense is struggling. That didn’t happen tonight. Tennessee is gonna challenge for the SEC title. We’ve got the tiebreaker now. It’s a big deal.”

Alabama will return to action next week against the Florida Gators (9-3). The matchup in Gainesville is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2. Florida’s SEC opener with Ole Miss was postponed to a later date.