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South Carolina, Alabama see positives in early SEC slate

south-carolina,-alabama-see-positives-in-early-sec-slate

South Carolina wants to keep things going in the right direction. After a narrow win, Alabama would like to be heading that way, too.

Two teams that hope to be contenders in the Southeastern Conference meet Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. One of them will improve to 2-0 in league play.

South Carolina (13-1, 1-0 SEC) opened conference play with a victory for the first time in three seasons last weekend, a 68-62 home victory over Mississippi State.

“It’s so amazing when you’re out there,” South Carolina guard Meechie Johnson said. “We’re just working. We’re humble, and we know we have a lot of games left to play. It’s fun.”

Gamecocks coach Lamont Paris said he likes how the team has earned the strong start to the season. Johnson, who averages a team-best 18.2 points per game, has led South Carolina in scoring in eight games this season. He scored 24 points in the SEC opener.

“He has got tremendous energy,” Paris said. “He has tremendous belief in himself and he has got even more belief in his team, in his coaching staff.”

Johnson’s contributions Saturday included a clutch steal in the final 10 seconds.

“That was a great individual play,” Paris said. “It’s almost fitting that you win the game with a defensive play versus something offensively. Defense matters to me. I want defense to be our identity. Our growth defensively has been tremendous.”

Alabama (9-5, 1-0) has won its last three games, including Saturday’s 78-75 escape at Vanderbilt.

“We have to be better on Tuesday,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said.

Alabama’s main offensive contributor is guard Mark Sears, who has scored in double figures in every game this season and averages 19.4 ppg. He has reached the 20-point mark six times, including 21 vs. Vanderbilt. He, too, is expected to be a difference-maker on the defensive end.

“I thought he had some good defensive possessions,” Oats said.

The Crimson Tide have given up more than 80 points in each of their losses this season.

“We’ve really bought in to finishing with a full 40 minutes of defense,” Sears said.

–Field Level Media

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