Alabama’s 23-point lead was fading as the 40-hour turnaround from Thursday night’s loss at Vanderbilt to Saturday’s matinee with Ole Miss. It was that same 23-point margin that the Rebels erased in Oxford a season ago.
All was aligned for another meltdown.
The lead, however, never slipped below eight as Alabama held on for a 74-64 win to retain its two-game lead atop the SEC West by shutting down one of the league’s greatest scorers. Rebel Chris Warren entered with the SEC’s second-best average of 18.7 points a night, but went without a field goal until the 38th minute as Alabama’s patented defense found the answer yet again. He finished with 15 points on 10 of 12 free throws, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Rebels’ three-game winning streak alive.
Instead it was Alabama who remained perfect in 12 home games. Playing in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,383 that included basketball singee Levi Randolph and Nick Saban, the Tide motored through any tired legs to grab a 47-27 halftime lead.
Coach Anthony Grant never had to mention the collapse of 2010.
“Actually, JaMychal (Green) brought it up at the half,” Grant said. “We were in the same situation and we needed to come out with the same energy that we did in the first half.”
For about five minutes, it did. The lead swelled to 23 on a jumper from Mitchell with 15:59 left. From there, it got interesting. Ole Miss went on an 18-1 run when Alabama went nearly six minutes without a field goal. Dundrecous Nelson his three of the four straight Rebel 3-pointers the sliced the lead to 60-50 with 9:00 left.
Alabama (16-8, 8-2 SEC) wasn’t just failing to score, it didn’t get many looks at the basket after halftime. It made more field goals in the first half (19) than it attempted in the second (17). It committed 10 turnovers that Ole Miss converted into 10 points.
Mitchell, who became the first Alabama player to score 20-plus points in four straight games since Richard Hendrix did so in 2007-08, scored 15 of his 20 before halftime as the Tide again turned to its defense for a rally.
It slowed the Rebels with two steals and four points in a 15-second span midway through the half. From there all but four points came at the free-throw line where the Tide made 10-of-13 down the stretch. Of Alabama’s 11 blocks, 10 came after halftime.
The first half couldn’t have played out any more differently for Alabama. It shot 52.8 percent from the field and made its first 5 of 8 from 3-point range after going 2-for-15 in a Thursday night loss at Vanderbilt.
With Ole Miss playing a zone, the opportunities were there for Trevor Releford who made 3 of 4 for 14 points. Mitchell exposed the other weakness of the 2-3 zone by working the baseline.
“I just tried to slip behind the defense a little bit, and when they penetrate and there’s nothing on the wing, they can throw it down to me on the baseline,” Mitchell said.
The hottest player in the SEC came off the bench for the second time in three games in what Grant called a “coach’s decision.” He scored 24 at Tennessee last Saturday his other dose of backup duty.
Alabama’s other main scoring threat, Green got his share with 15 points when Ole Miss threatened one of Alabama’s bragging rights. After outscoring every opponent this season in the paint, the Rebels were within two with 12 minutes left before the Tide finished with a 30-24 advantage inside.
Stopping Warren, though, was more of a priority than anything since he averaged 22.3 points in the recent three-game winning streak. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was well aware Warren would be a target. The response just wasn’t adequate.
“Most times when he came off the ball screen, he was facing a double team,” Kennedy said. “They are very active with their hands. They run through passes. Their reputation defensively precedes them.”
The leaders of the SEC West will again face a Thursday-Saturday turnaround starting at LSU then back in Coleman Coliseum to face Arkansas.
Florida retained its half-game overall SEC lead over Alabama by beating Tennessee on Saturday.