Southeastern Conference leader Alabama looks to get back on track when it hits the road again to take on South Carolina on Tuesday night in Columbia, S.C.
Both teams are coming off losses this past weekend, with the No. 11 Crimson Tide (15-5, 10-1 SEC) dropping an 88-85 decision at then-No. 18 Missouri and the Gamecocks (5-7, 3-5) losing 75-59 at home to Mississippi State.
The loss to Mizzou snapped the Tide’s 10-game conference winning streak that was interrupted by a 66-61 loss at then-No. 24 Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 30.
The setback to the Tigers didn’t knock the Tide out of the conference lead, but it did tighten the race. Missouri (13-3, 6-3) is a half-game up on LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas for second place.
“We’re in a dogfight now for the league title, and they’ve got the tiebreaker,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of Missouri. “We’ve got our hands full these last seven games now. We’ve got to play a lot better Tuesday against South Carolina than we did (against Missouri). We’ve got to start the game a lot better, for sure.”
The Tide fell behind early at Missouri and trailed by 22 points with just over 13 minutes left before staging a furious rally that came up a basket short. Herbert Jones missed a layup and then had his attempt from under the basket on Bama’s next possession blocked in the closing seconds with the Tide down by a point.
After Xavier Pinson hit two free throws to give Mizzou a three-point cushion with 4.2 seconds remaining, Jaden Shackelford’s potentially tying 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer.
Shackelford’s miss left him with only two 3-pointers in his last 11 attempts in the last two games, but Oats is confident the usually accurate long-distance threat will bounce back.
“I think he’s a really good shooter and I think the law of averages will average out there pretty quick and he’ll get going,” Oats said. “We’ve really got to get Herb healthy.”
Jones is playing through a hand injury while shouldering a bigger load with backup Jordan Bruner out with a knee injury. Bruner is expected to return later this season.
“Obviously he’s going to help us,” Oats said. “We were playing great. Our best basketball probably was kind of when he went down. If we can get him back in a couple weeks I think he’s going to help us a lot.”
The Gamecocks looked to be back on their game when they won 72-66 at Florida last week, but coach Frank Martin lamented their lack of toughness in their loss to Mississippi State.
“It’s disappointing that we can’t put together two good games in a row,” he said. “It’s a rollercoaster right now, and it’s really disappointing.”
The Gamecocks shot only 31.1 percent and the Bulldogs outrebounded South Carolina 46-30.
“We didn’t make enough shots,” Martin said, “and we didn’t have the resolve to deal with the physicality of the game.”
–Field Level Media