Alabama Cooks Gamecocks With Dominant 2nd Half
After a lackluster, energy-driven first half, the Alabama Crimson Tide dominated their SEC home opener against the South Carolina Gamecocks, 74-47.
Mark Sears led the way with 31 points, 10 on 13 shots, and six three-pointers made in the game, while Aaron Estrada contributed 17 points despite having an inadequate performance due to mistakes.
This game would be put in the thesaurus as an example of the phrase Tale of Two Halves.
Alabama's lack of enthusiasm and intensity in the first half persisted outside of their three-pointers. The energy in the gym was absent, and even with a few three-pointers, the Bama faithful were not fully engaged in the game.
Considering that this was the conference home opener, the crowd was not as large as one might have expected, but there were still quite a few people in attendance tonight.
The energy in the building was like a rollercoaster; Alabama would do something good and exciting for a moment, such as Mark Sears making one of his three three-pointers, and then the Tide would make a mistake or fail to hustle and show that "Blue Collar" effort, bringing the energy back down, such as the eight turnovers in the half.
In the first half, Rylan Griffen helped lead a surge that resulted in a three-pointer that gave Alabama the lead with nine minutes left until halftime, and that was the first time the crowd was on their feet and engaged in the game. After that, the team continued to play poorly, leaving fans wondering what was wrong.
Despite the Crimson Tide's poor performance in the first half, which included turnovers, a lack of effort, and making it easy for the Gamecocks to attack and peck their way into the paint, Alabama led 30-29 at halftime.
"We played an awful first half," head coach Nate Oats said. "The first half, [Mark Sears] held us in there. We were struggling in the first half to score; there were too many turnovers. Probably as bad as a half we've played all year, and somehow we were still up by one and a large part due to Mark."
Alabama came out of the locker room as if a switch had been flipped, and they lit up the Gamecocks on both sides of the ball.
The Crimson Tide played with more intensity and excitement, engaging the crowd and even getting into the heads of a few Gamecocks, resulting in offsetting technicals with one of their best players and one of Alabama's walk-ons.
The freshmen Sam Walters and Mo Dioubate, along with Nick Pringle, were the unsung heroes of the game tonight.
Walters and Dioubate were key contributors to the Crimson Tide's win tonight. As the season goes on, Walters has been growing more and more confident in his abilities. Just six points were his total after making two three-pointers tonight.
The box score will not show the impact that Mo Dioubate had tonight against the Gamecocks outside of the six rebounds that he got in the second half. After Alabama was dominated in the paint during the first half, the 6-foot-7 freshman from Queens, New York, came and desperately needed some physicality. Dioubate was able to hold his own, forcing missed shots, grabbing rebounds, and attempting to create plays for his teammates while guarding the big men, who had a height advantage over him.
Aside from Mark Sears' lob to Rylan Griffen, which electrified the crowd for the rest of the game, with 8:57 left in the game, Dioubate found Walters for a wide-open three, and when South Carolina called timeout, the Alabama bench mobbed Dioubate as if he had just scored the game-winning basket. Just expressing gratitude and acknowledging the young man's effort.
Pringle appeared unfocused in the first half, not being in the right places at the right times and failing to make simple plays for his side. The second half featured a completely different Pringle. He was flying through the skies, hauling down rebounds, establishing legal screens for his guards, and communicating like a phone line worker, and the Alabama fans appreciated it.
These fans and this team have been begging for this type of performance from the senior from Seabrook S.C.
"His mentality changed," Sears said about Pringle's second-half performance. "We need Nick to play like that every night. When he does that this team is very dangerous."
Mohamed Wague was ruled out tonight due to an apparent foot injury, forcing Nick Pringle to start. Wague played well in his first few games as a Crimson Tide and has started the last eight. The 6-foot-10 junior transfer from West Virginia has had to fill the void created by Charles Bediako's move to the NBA.
"He's kind of week-to-week," Oats said about Wague's injury. "He's got his right foot that he had to have surgery on. It kind of flared up, and we needed to rest him. He's been out of practice for the last couple of days. We will see what we can do by Saturday."
He has performed admirably in that role; nevertheless, according to Nate Oats, Wague has been dealing with the same foot injury since arriving at the Capstone. Wague underwent surgery when he arrived in Tuscaloosa, and he is now being treated daily.
With no idea how long Wague will be out, this team requires more consistent effort from Pringle to challenge for a conference title and make the NCAA tournament.
Mark Sears maintains his strong shooting to begin conference play. Sears leads the SEC in scoring, averaging 19.4 per game. The Muscle Shoals native returned after being part of last year's championship team. Sears understands what it takes to get the job done, and he has done an excellent job as the team's leader, which he must continue given that he has been the most consistent player.
"That was the most unselfish 31 points we have seen," said Oats of Sears' performance. "I thought he was making the right plays, moving the ball, being a great teammate, and still ended up with 31 points. He kind of proves you can play the right way and move the ball, and when you're as talented as he is, you still end up with 31 points, super efficient."
Alabama looks to remain unbeaten in conference play as they will be traveling up Highway 82 to Starkville to face off against Mississippi State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Alabama MBB vs South Carolina
Gallery Credit: SEC Media