TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- We had seen this movie before: Alabama fights for a sizeable lead, the lead slowly evaporates, Alabama forgets how to play basketball, and Alabama loses the game. But in its Southeastern Conference opener, Anthony Grant’s Crimson Tide team was able to hold off Vanderbilt’s comeback long enough to escape with a 68-63 victory.
This win over the Commodores gives Alabama an undefeated conference record (1-0), and extends their home conference win streak to 13 games. But a 5-point win over an SEC opponent in the SEC opener becomes decreasingly impressive when you realize that the Crimson Tide blew a 16-point lead to barely hold on and win against Vanderbilt, whose leading scorer Eric McClellan did not travel to Tuscaloosa for undisclosed reasons.
“I was not happy with the energy in the second half and some of the things that we allowed to happen in the second half,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “So, I’ll have to go back and evaluate the film.
But certainly you always would rather learn your lessons through winning rather than having to learn your lessons through losing.”
Losing close games seems to have become a key character flaw for this year’s Alabama basketball team, but maybe after the disappointment of its non-conference schedule, the Crimson Tide can use the more favorable SEC schedule—excluding Kentucky and Florida—to improve and push for an NCAA tournament bid.
“I’m just proud of myself and of my team,” Alabama guard Retin Obasohan said. “We had an opportunity to play a very tough non-conference schedule and it definitely prepared us going into this SEC season.”
After Grant fiddled with the starting lineup—starting freshman Shannon Hale, and starting Carl Engstrom over Nick Jacobs, who continues to struggle—the changes seemed to have a real effect on the Crimson Tide’s play. Trevor Releford led Alabama in scoring with 16 points, followed by Hale and Obasohan’s 15.
While most of Alabama’s positive momentum came in the first half, it was Obasohan whose crucial 3-pointer in the final minute stopped the bleeding of Vanderbilt’s comeback and sealed the game for the home team.
Other than the all-important 3-point make, the key to Alabama’s large lead—and eventual victory—was pressure: Full-court press and solid defense, winning the turnover battle 16-8, points in the paint and successful 3-point baskets.
“It was all about the style of play in the first half,” Obasohan said. “It was about the opportunity to hit first. We startled them with pressure.”
If only Alabama could do that for 40 minutes.