Tennessee out slugs No. 1 Alabama, ends perfect SEC run


Alabama knew they’d get be in for a rock fight Wednesday night in Knoxville. Tennessee limped in after losing on consecutive buzzer beaters and its trademarked physical brand looking to scrap.

And the Vols left bruises.

The 68-59 ended Alabama’s bid for a perfect conference regular-season on a night Tennessee roughed up the nation’s top-ranked team.

The Crimson Tide (22-4, 12-1 SEC) had a season-low scoring total after turning it over 19 times. That was the most for Alabama in league play as the Vol defense impacted the play in the paint. Where Alabama made 20 of 24 dunks and layups Saturday at Auburn, it was just 6-for-21 at the rim in Knoxville. Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats noted the shot-blocking presence that impacted the approach near the basket.

“We weren’t surprised by their physicality,” Alabama guard Nimari Burnett said. “We knew coming in they would dish out the physicality. We have to do a better job of preparing for it and being mindful of it.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee controlled the effort stats. It outscored Alabama 26-2 in points off turnovers and 28-12 in second-chance points.

Brandon Miller scored 15 points before fouling out in the final moments but added a few highlights. He missed all seven 3-pointers at Auburn and the first two Wednesday before hitting one in traffic in the first half. The future lottery pick tied the game at 40 with another 3-pointer with 14:09 left but the Vols led the rest of the way after going on a 7-0 run in response.

Freshman guard Jaden Bradley added 14 points by getting to the foul line where he was 10-for-14.

The Vol defense did a great job denying passing lanes and “make you start you start your offense way out,” Bradley said and the Tide’s attacking style didn’t come until too late in the game.

And where Rylan Griffen was the spark off the bench Saturday at Auburn, Burnett stepped up at Tennessee. He scored 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting at the perimeter on a night Griffen was held scoreless.

Though Oats acknowledged Tuesday this Tennessee team was the most physical in the nation, preparing for what they felt in Knoxville isn’t as easy a extra film work.

“I mean, we tried to emulate it,” Oats said, “sbut you can’t … you can have your scout team be a little more physical but we obviously didn’t do a good enough job. It’s impossible for your scout team to emulate these guys. They don’t play the same way we do.”

Alabama got 17 minutes from starting center Charles Bediako but the minor knee injury that limited his practice time was enough of an issue that he came out of the game Wednesday. Oats and teammates said his 7-foot presence was missed at the rim but the coach said the defense wasn’t what sank Alabama in Knoxville.

Alabama improved ball handling took a beating right from the jump as a turnover ended its first possession. Its 12th giveaway came more than four minutes before halftime, a number that matched the full-game output from the 77-69 win at Auburn on Saturday. The Vols swarming defense had seven first-half steals that led to a staggering 17-0 halftime edge in points off turnovers.

The game was tied at the break, however, because the Vols couldn’t shoot. Despite taking 16 more shots in the first half, Tennessee (11-for-37 made just two more than the Tide (9-for-21) as they went to intermission with a 29-29 deadlock.

Alabama will be back in Coleman Coliseum at 5 p.m. CT Saturday to face Georgia. After entering as a 3.5-point underdog Saturday, the Tide should be favored by a healthy margin in each of the final five regular-season games.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.