No. 9 Alabama 82, Vanderbilt 78: Nate Oats starts walk-on senior and Crimson Tide still wins
Jaden Shackelford led Alabama (18-5, 13-1) with a season-high 27 points and Jahvon Quinerly added 15.
The Crimson Tide had 57 bench points as Shackelford and Quinerly both stepped aside to let seniors start.
Here are three key observations:
Oats sentimental for seniors
Alabama started five seniors Saturday, including walk-on Tyler Barnes of Louisville, Ky., making his first career start.
Also in the lineup were usual starters John Petty Jr. and Herb Jones, Alex Reese (making his ninth start of the season) and senior transfer Jordan Bruner, a starter in all 13 games before injuring his meniscus at Kentucky on Jan. 12.
Barnes played three minutes, missing his only shot attempt and recording one rebound. The others played the rest of the game as part of the regular rotation.
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The Bruner surprise
Alabama coach Nate Oats had hinted that Bruner was “getting close” to being game-ready after a five-week layoff and surgery to repair his torn meniscus. However, Oats also indicated that Wednesday’s game against Arkansas might be a more likely return date.
Instead, Bruner got the start and saw far more than nominal duty. He played 20 minutes, scoring just one point but adding six rebounds. That was one more minute more than Jones, who fouled out with 3:56 to play.
SEC race could be settled soon
The win over Vanderbilt lifted Alabama to 13-1 in SEC play. With Arkansas (9-4) idle Saturday, the Crimson Tide could clinch its first outright title since 2002 with a win in Fayetteville next week.
Alabama would have at least two more games remaining after that, depending on whether the SEC chooses to make up the Alabama-Texas A&M game.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt