TUSCALOOSA, Ala — The stage was set at Bud Walton Arena for the SEC Championship Game and a certain energy reverberated through the court as Alabama sought to tackle Arkansas for a second time this season.
It would be no easy feat for the top two SEC teams to battle it out, no matter the score of the last game between them. Arkansas wasn’t ready to give up the title on their home court, and Alabama seemed a little cocky for their own good.
This was bound to be a match-up for the ages as both teams are ranked in the Top 25 of the AP Poll. Alabama sitting at #6 and Arkansas at #20 respectively.
As the game got started fouls were flying left and right, and for the #2 nationally ranked defensive team, Alabama wasn’t doing a good job at keeping Arkansas at bay. Something that would come to bite them later on, as they kept sending the Hogs to the free-throw line.
Deep into the first half, the fouls stood even at 7-7, but the Tide’s soon skyrocketed, sending the Hog’s to the courtesy stripe at every twist and turn. For offensive charges, for not playing clean defense, for diving for a loose ball.
It doesn’t help that the Tide’s top players were in foul trouble early, with Jaden Shackelford having to sit for a bit in the first so he wouldn’t draw his fourth foul and eventually fouled out in the second half. Herb Jones’s track record isn’t all that clean either, having fouled out of two of the last three games before Arkansas. Jones later dove for a loose ball, and tallied his fifth foul, only 24 minutes into the contest.
What stands out is the fact that the Tide gave Arkansas 43 free throws, compared to them only shooting 8. Now that’s a disparity.
“We gotta be able to defend without fouling. We had a season-high in fouling, 43 free throws, You can’t put them at the line 43 times and expect to win a game.” Coach Nate Oats said.
To top off the night John Petty Jr. received two technical fouls, both for mouthing off to the refs in what appeared to be bad calls on Petty’s end. Shortly after the second he was ejected from the game and walked off the court with steam coming from both ears.
Not that Arkansas didn’t partake in technical fouls. Jalen Tate had two techs as well and was ejected from the game shortly after Petty.
Oats added, “I felt like we had a lot of guys worried about the officiating. Well… we have no control over the officiating. They’re gonna officiate the game the way they’re gonna officiate. We gotta worry about what we can control and do a better job at it.”
The Razorbacks’ Moses Moody was rolling against the tide tallying 24 points, 16 of which came from the free-throw line.
It all circles back to playing a clean game for Alabama. At the end of the night, Arkansas put on a show. They came prepared, and the Tide fell from their high horse 81-66. But they know what they need to work on for Mississippi State on Saturday.
An opportunity is arising for the Tide and if all bodes well, a win in Starkville still means a share of the SEC Title.
“Mississippi State is a tough, hard-nosed team that rebounds it well. We’re gonna have to play a lot better if we’re planning on getting a win there,” said Oats.