Alabama's faith in grad transfer pays off as Collins helps Alabama overcome Mississippi State in SEC TournamentBy Tyler Waldrep | 03/09/2017 6:50pm
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- When senior transfer Corban Collins stepped off the team bus in Nashville on Wednesday afternoon, eight games separated him from his last successful game as a scorer. Over that same stretch, he’d been shutout three times and only knocked down six of 36 shots from the field.
“It was a tough little stretch for me especially shooting the ball,” Collins said. “I was going through a little slump. But like I said, I got the best teammates and the best coaching staff in the country. Their confidence in me never wavered.”
That confidence was rewarded on Thursday when he knocked down four 3-pointers and scored 14 points as fifth seeded Alabama defeated the No. 12 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs 75-55 in Bridgestone Arena.
With the victory, only Wimp Sanderson and Anthony Grant have won more games (42 each) in their first two seasons at Alabama than coach Avery Johnson (36).
After the game, junior Riley Norris was one of several players that said the team needed a performance like this, especially offensively. Freshman Dazon Ingram knocked down all seven of his shots to lead the team with 17 points. Three other Alabama players, including Collins, finished with at least 10.
“I think we were focused coming into today and we knew we had to have a level of aggression and it showed,” Norris said. “We got to the free throw line early, put some of their guys in foul trouble.”
This wasn’t the first time Alabama (18-13 10-8 Southeastern conference) enjoyed a strong start, but with a nine-point lead and only seconds left in the first half, Johnson saw an opportunity to press his advantage and called a timeout to set up a 3-point play Alabama converted moments before the break.
“We don't finish halves strong,” Johnson said. “Again we ran something we had been working on. [Avery Johnson] Junior wasn't hesitant. He caught it and shot it.”
The timeout seemed to do the trick as the Crimson Tide kept its foot on the gas, unlike other games, and used an 18-0 run early in the second half that was book-ended by 3’s from Collins to effectively put the game away long before the final buzzer sounded.
“We just started clicking,” Johnson Jr. said. “We [were] just preaching ‘next level, next step. We didn’t want to give up the lead.”
On Friday, Alabama will attempt to prolong its stay in the Music City by defeating the fourth seeded South Carolina Gamecocks (22-9, 12-6 SEC).
The Crimson Tide came out ahead the only time the two teams matched up this season, but Johnson’s team was forced to dig deep to secure a 90-86 victory. It also needed four overtimes.
In the win, Alabama struggled to contain South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell. He finished with 44 points and 21 rebounds in a game it’s safe to say Johnson hasn’t forgotten.
“Thornwell, he's an SEC Player of the Year for a reason,” Johnson said. “He is sometimes unguardable. And I had a front row seat in the four overtime game, and he gives you nightmares.”
Norris said the team will treat the next game like it’s a championship game just like it did with Thursday’s opponent.
“It [having that championship mindset] just means you gotta lay it all on the court,” Norris said. “If you lose there’s no more games. You just gotta give it all you got.”