Alabama forward Grant Nelson hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch Wednesday night to help the 24th-ranked Crimson Tide rally for an 85-76 Southeastern Conference win at Georgia.
And in the eyes of coach Nate Oats, whose team hosts Mississippi State on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, the best is yet to come for the North Dakota State transfer.
“He’s showed he’s got some toughness to him,” Oats said. “He’s struggled to shoot the ball. We trust him to make shots and those two he hit late in the game were big. I mean, they sealed the game for us. So he showed he’s a winner. He showed the moment doesn’t get too big for him.”
The 6-11 Nelson, who averaged 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds last season for the Bison, is down to 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game with Alabama. Nelson is sinking 46.4 percent of his shots from the field, as opposed to 52.1 last season, but is making 87.2 percent at the line, 15 percentage points above last season.
If Nelson enjoys more 20-point games like the one he had at Georgia, a Crimson Tide offense that leads the nation in scoring at 89.4 points per game could become even more potent.
Alabama (15-6, 7-1) trailed Georgia 17-2 eight minutes into the game and 41-27 at halftime but poured in 58 second-half points, marking the 13th time this season the Crimson Tide scored at least 50 in a half. Oats said it was the type of game a team with designs on a conference championship has to win.
“We fixed a lot of what was wrong in the first half,” he said. “I knew we could win this game by getting stops and rebounding the ball better. We did enough on offense and played hard enough.”
Mark Sears leads the Tide, which enters the weekend with a one-game lead in the SEC, at 20.1 points per game.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State (14-7, 3-5) could use a road win to help boost its resume for an NCAA at-large bid. The Bulldogs hurt themselves Tuesday night in an 86-82 loss at in-state rival Ole Miss, allowing a dozen 3-pointers and coughing up 15 turnovers.
That was enough to cancel out 53.6 percent field goal shooting and some good individual efforts, including 21 points from guard Josh Hubbard. Cameron Matthews added 16 points and 12 rebounds but leading scorer Tolu Smith (16.2 points per game) was held to five shots and nine points in 25 foul-plagued minutes.
Coach Chris Jans liked a lot about his team’s effort but has been concerned with the Bulldogs’ turnover rate lately.
“We average around 18, I think, which is not a great number,” he said. “It’s a little above the norm in college basketball and it’s become our Achilles’ heel. When we have issues, it usually comes back to that.”
Hubbard has enjoyed a good freshman season, averaging 15.2 points while playing most of his minutes off the bench. He was the sixth man in an 82-74 home loss last month against Alabama, managing 14 points in 21 minutes.
Sears paced the Tide’s attack that night with 22 points on just 12 shot attempts.
–Field Level Media
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