In what has become an all-too-familiar refrain for Crimson Tide faithful, the Tide basketball team burst out of the gates early in yesterday's tilt against Xavier only to squander the game with poor play down the stretch.
Seldom used true freshman Shannon Hale led the way in the first half by scoring 10 points in only eight minutes of work. Hale, who did not see the court against Wichita State on Tuesday, hit 4 out of 6 first half shots including 2 of 4 from three point range. Levi Randolph had seven points at the half, picking up the slack from Trevor Releford who spent much of the first half on the bench with two fouls.
The Tide came out strong in the second half, stretching the lead to 12 at 44-32 with 16:26 left in the game. Inexplicably, Hale only played five second half minutes despite the strong showing, finishing with a career high 14 points in only 13 minutes of game action.
As Bama fans have seen time and again with this unit, a long second-half scoring drought proved to be the team's undoing. Nine minutes without a field goal turned the lead into a five-point deficit. Releford's three with fifteen seconds left cut it to two at 73-71, but Xavier was deadly at the foul line in the late going to secure the victory. The Musketeers came into the game only making 61 percent of their foul shots, but hit 22-28 tonight for 78 percent. The Tide is shooting 73 percent from the line on the season, but tonight only hit 20-30 for 66 percent.
Xavier (9-3) grabbed 38 rebounds, including 17 on the offensive end. This is a continuing problem for the Tide, giving up second and third chance points. Alabama had 34 rebounds but only eight on the offensive end.
There were a few positives. Releford shined again scoring 17 points, grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out three assists with no turnovers. Hale had 14 points, with Randolph dropping in another 13. Rodney Cooper scored nine points and led the team with eight rebounds. The Tide's three big men, Nick Jacobs, Jimmie Taylor and Carl Engstram combined for only seven rebounds, with four of those by Engstrom in 16 minutes of work. Isaiah Philmore lead Xavier with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Matt Stainbrook added 17 points and six rebounds.
This was another frustrating loss for Alabama in a season that has been full of them. The team will have a couple of days off for Christmas before returning for practice and a December 28 trip to Los Angeles to play UCLA. 'Bama can not continue to have long scoring droughts and expect to win many games. This team never gets blown out but seemingly wilts in crunch time more often than not. Coach Grant seemed like a dead man walking on his way for his post game interview with Chris Stewart, where he said, "We had it going pretty good at about the 12 minute mark, but Xavier had that look like they knew they would win. We need to get that ourselves, and realize you cannot run out the clock when we have a lead. This is another game we need to learn from, and go forward from here".
The problem for Grant is, even though conference play has not yet begun, things are already looking bleak. At 5-6 and with only two non conference games left, it would take an extremely unlikely run in SEC play to have a chance at qualifying for the NCAA tournament., The natives are getting restless concerning Coach Anthony Grant's future.
Roll Tide Y'all Roger