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January 19, 2012

Tide suffers worst home loss in Grant era

TUSCALOOSA | Without a single country music star in sight, Coleman Coliseum was still a little bit of Nashville on Thursday night.

The Vanderbilt Commodores, who have plagued the University of Alabama basketball team in their Nashville home for years, delivered a similar spanking to UA on the Crimson Tide's home floor Thursday night, leading by as many as 23 points en route to an eventual 69-59 victory.

The loss snapped the Crimson Tide's 10-game home winning streak against SEC competition and - with a game against No. 2 Kentucky less than 48 hours away - put UA's Southeastern Conference aspirations on a back burner until further notice.

The 10-point margin marked the worst home defeat for UA (13-5, 2-2 SEC) in Anthony Grant's three-year head coaching tenure at UA.

Alabama seemed frustrated by the officiating and affected by the first-half exit of Andrew Steele, but Vanderbilt was also disruptive on defense and made clutch shots on offense, especially in the early minutes of the second half.

"They took us out of a lot of the things that we had been able to do successfully," Grant said. "I thought we were able to put ourselves in a good position in the first half, but then we went seven minutes without scoring, we got down and we couldn't come back."

Alabama led the game 19-15 with 6:38 to play in the first half, when the scoring drought that Grant mentioned began. By the time it ended, Vanderbilt had scored 14 unanswered points to build a 10-point lead in the second half - and things only got worse. Ultimately, Vandy's run became a staggering 43-16 edge over 19 minutes of play, as the Commodores took a 58-35 lead with 8:12 to go.

Alabama outscored Vanderbilt 24-11 from that point, but never made a credible threat.

At one point, UA - clearly frustrated by a 29-10 free throw deficit on its own home floor - drew a bench technical as part of a five-point play by the Commodores.

"I would say it was a build-up of frustration on my part, rather than one particular call," Grant said. "I need to do a better job of that, of talking to the officials."

There were other sources of frustration. The twin engines of Alabama's frontcourt offense, JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, sputtered all evening, with Green scoring just six points and Mitchell failing to score a single point. It was the first time Mitchell had been held scoreless in 85 career games.

"I think you just have to keep the ball out of their hands as much as you can and do a good job of contesting their shots," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings when asked about the defensive effort against Green and Mitchell. "As the game wore on, those guys never seemed to get in sync."

Trevor Releford led Alabama with 14 points, all in the second half.

Meanwhile, the stars for Vanderbilt (14-4, 4-0 SEC) performed as advertised. John Jenkins led the Commodores with 20 points, Jeffery Taylor added 17 and Festus Ezeli added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Steele played just three minutes in the first half before having to leave the game due to symptoms of dizziness. Grant did not give further information, although UA spokesman Ty Patton said that a concussion "had not been ruled in or ruled out" and that Steele, who has a history of concussions, would be "closely monitored" over the next 24 hours in case of a possible recurrence.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0225.


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