Ole Miss Dominates No. 6 Alabama, 84-56
March 3, 2002
By RALPH D. RUSSO
OXFORD, Miss. - The lighting is dim at Tad Smith Coliseum. The domed ceiling is a dreary combination of gray concrete blocks and steel beams. It's the smallest arena in the Southeastern Conference.
And Mississippi has made the "Tad Pad" one of the toughest places in the nation to play.
David Sanders scored a career-high 23 points as Mississippi defeated No. 6 Alabama 84-56 Sunday, the second time in 15 days the Rebels have knocked off the sixth-ranked team at home.
Ole Miss (20-9, 9-7) finished the season 13-1 at Tad Smith, including 8-0 in the SEC. The Rebels have won 91 of their last 100 home games.
Sanders said it's not necessarily the setting as much of the style of play that makes Ole Miss such a rude host.
"We can play a little bit rougher at home because we get a few more calls. They really let us play," Sanders said, referring to the officials.
The Rebels will be playing on neutral courts from here on out, starting with the SEC tournament in Atlanta where they will play South Carolina in the first round Thursday. The NCAA tournament most likely will follow.
"If we keep the same mental focus we have at home on the road, we can be real successful," said Justin Reed, who had 12 points.
The Crimson Tide (24-6, 12-4) matched their second-lowest point total of the season, turned the ball over 26 times and damaged their chances of earning a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
"They played like they had a lot of purpose. Like maybe they didn't think they were in the tournament," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "We played like we were running in mud."
When the Rebels beat then-No. 6 Florida 68-51 on Feb. 16, they were coming off a bad road loss to Auburn.
The scenario was the same for the Rebels on Sunday. Having dropped a three-point game at LSU on Wednesday, Ole Miss needed a win to fortify its NCAA tournament credentials and help people forget about that 1-7 SEC road record.
The Rebels played with a sense of urgency from the start and Alabama, with the regular-season conference title already wrapped up, couldn't keep up.
Mississippi went up 22-4 with eight minutes of near-perfect play on the offensive end. Ole Miss made eight of its first 12 shots, including consecutive 3-pointers by Sanders and Aaron Harper to start the game.
"They came out on fire. The first couple of shots they took they made. I was like 'Whoa,"' said Alabama center Erwin Dudley, who scored a season-low five points.
Alabama didn't help matters by going 2-for-8 with six turnovers in the opening minutes.
The Crimson Tide had the lead down to 31-20 and the crowd of 9,311 quieted, when another of their 15 first-half turnovers sparked a second Ole Miss spurt.
Sanders picked up a sloppy Alabama inbounds pass and found Jason Harrison for a wide open 3-pointer. The play ignited an 11-0 run to close the half and gave Ole Miss a 42-20 lead.
The lead never dipped below 20 in the second half and reached a high of 33 when Sanders glided in for layup with 2:52 left.
Harper finished with 16 points.
Rod Grizzard and Antoine Pettway each had 14 points for Alabama.
Harrison, a 5-foot-5 point guard and fan favorite, scored 15 points in his last home game. The Rebels' lone senior left to a standing ovation with about 90 seconds remaining. As he came off floor, he stopped by the Alabama bench to shake hands with Gottfried, before getting a hug from Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes.
"My teammates really gave it up for me," Harrison said.
For the second straight year, Alabama played the foil to Ole Miss on senior day. Last year, the Rebels clinched the SEC West with a 105-71 victory in the regular-season finale.
The Crimson Tide have lost four straight in Oxford.
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