Heading in to Saturday night's showdown in Coleman Coliseum, one could make a valid argument that the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ole Miss Rebels were the two most similar teams in the Southeastern Conference. Both teams had a reputation for playing stingy defense while also struggling offensively, especially behind the arc. Saturday nights 40 minute showdown gave both teams the chance to prove they were better than the other. There was just one problem. Forty minutes was not enough. It took two overtimes and some energized play by Alabama's bench to give coach Anthony Grant's Tide a hard-fought 69-67 win over Andy Kennedy's Rebels.
The star of the game for Alabama was indisputably JaMychal Green. The senior forward had 16 points and 12 rebounds, giving him the 24th double-double of his Alabama career. True freshman forward Nick Jacobs complimented Green nicely in the front court, contributing 6 points and 9 rebounds. Jacobs got the start over star junior Tony Mitchell, who seemed to get whatever message coach Grant was trying to send him. Mitchell poured in 14 points off the bench, including several plays that are sure to make the highlight reel at the end of the season. Also contributing off the bench was sophomore guard Charles Hankerson, Jr., who had 10 points in only 13 minutes of action.
While Green was the star for the Tide, the play of the game came from a player who at the beginning of this season was not even a member of the team. Senior guard Andrew Steele's incredible transformation from a player whose career was supposedly over due to concussion like symptoms to a key contributor to a team fighting hard to make the NCAA tournament seemed to reach a head Saturday night. With Alabama clinging to a 65-64 lead and the shot clock down to under 5 seconds, Steele drove to just inside the arc and drained a perfect shot to put the Tide up by 3 with less than 30 seconds remaining. Steele, who was playing in only his ninth game of the season, ended the game with 7 points. Two late free throws by the Tide were able to off-set a last second 3 pointer by the Rebels.
Coach Grant, who at various times in the game showed a rare side of fiery emotion, spoke very highly of his teams' effort while also praising the Rebels and the effort they gave.
"I could not be prouder of the effort our guys gave today," Grant said. "In the first half we really struggled. Give Ole Miss credit, I feel like they shot the ball extremely well and they were tough defensively. At halftime we talked about what we needed to do from a defensive standpoint and I thought from that point forward the defense just continued to get better and better and better over the course of the rest of the game."
Ole Miss, who falls to 14-8 and 4-4 in SEC play, were led by junior guard Nick Williams and his game-high 19 points. While Ole Miss is not known for shooting the 3-point shot, they were deadly accurate on Saturday, hitting 6 out of 11. Andy Kennedy's Rebels also out-shot the Tide overall, shooting 43% to Bama's 40%.
Alabama, who now improves to 15-7 and 4-4 in SEC play, travels to other side of the state for their next contest. They make their annual pilgrimage to Auburn for a 7 pm CT tip-off against the Tigers on Tuesday night in the new Auburn Arena. Coach Tony Barbee's Tigers are 13-10 and 3-6 in league play this year, including holding a 12-1 record at home.