Quinerly erupts in second half to lead No. 24 Alabama over Vanderbilt

Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly (13) drives in for the layup on Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins (21) in the Crimson Tide’s 74-72 victory at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 22.

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly (13) drives in for the layup on Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins (21) in the Crimson Tide’s 74-72 victory at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee, on Feb. 22.

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

There have been several times this season when Alabama head coach Nate Oats has called Jahvon Quinerly the “best guard in the country.” There have also been times when Oats has asked for more out of the guard.

On Tuesday night in Nashville, “JQ” showed up in a big way when it mattered most for the Crimson Tide, in their 74-72 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gymnasium.

Quinerly didn’t come into the game until almost seven minutes in, which possibly stemmed from Oats’ defensive initiative.

“We need to find five guys that are going to buy in to playing hard on defense,” Oats said earlier in the week. “If you’re not going to guard on the defensive end, you aren’t going to play.”

Was it a stab at Quinerly? Maybe, maybe not. But Quinerly responded either way. He finished the contest with 19 points, including 17 in the second frame.

Not only was he a factor on the offensive end, he did his job guarding as well. Quinerly was part of the coalition tasked with stopping the SEC’s leading scorer, Scotty Pippen Jr. Although he scored 26, 14 came from the free-throw line. The Crimson Tide also forced Pippen into four turnovers.

“Coming off the bench is not really a problem for me,” Quinerly said. “He [Oats] wasn’t pleased with the effort I was giving to the team. I just tried to respond the best way I could. I was just trying to be aggressive, even though shots aren’t really falling for me right now.”

Quinerly finished the night with the team’s highest plus-minus as well. The Crimson Tide outscored the Commodores by 10 with him on the floor.

“His defense had to get better,” Oats said. “I thought he responded great. I thought he was a lot better tonight. We were better with him in the game. He definitely answered the challenge.”

It was a tough night for the rest of the Alabama offense, which, excluding Quinerly, shot 16-for-46 from the field and 5-for-25 from deep.

When the offense isn’t clicking, the defense must be sound in order to win, and the Crimson Tide’s was. The Commodores shot 36% from the field. Alabama also played its fair share of passing lanes, causing 16 Vanderbilt turnovers. The Crimson Tide blocked eight shots, including three each from Darius Miles and Noah Gurley.

After a half that saw Alabama give the Commodores 21 points off of turnovers, the Crimson Tide trailed 37-32 at halftime. Alabama played a much cleaner second half, turning the ball over just six times in the second frame.

“We told them they had to play harder,” Oats said. “We didn’t have enough. You can’t just expect teams to miss. You have to go create stops. I thought we did that.”

The Crimson Tide trailed 45-40 after the first six minutes of the second half, but a furious 24-8 run put Alabama up by 11 with under seven minutes to go.

There were tense moments at the end — the Commodores cut the lead to as little as 1 with under a minute — but the Crimson Tide stood strong on defense and knocked down 22 of their 25 free-throw attempts.

“Guys knocked down some big free throws,” Quinerly said. “That was big-time. That’s something we work on every day in practice. Hopefully that’s something we can take into March because that’s going to be big.”

With the win, the Crimson Tide have won four of their last five and move to 8-7 in the SEC with a two-game homestand coming up. Alabama will first host the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.

“Really pleased with our guys’ effort,” Oats said. “I think this was a character win. Things weren’t going our way on offense in the first half, but we never folded. We got to do a better job guarding without fouling. If we hadn’t fouled them as much as we did, I would’ve really been pleased with our defense. Other than that, I was much more pleased.”