Senior night, a large crowd, an important game, a TV audience, coming off a comeback win over an instate rival.
All things pointed to the Tide securing an important victory on Wednesday night. Visiting Arkansas had different thoughts.
The energy and enthusiasm of Senior Night ceremony, did not ceremonies did not the Tide honored as Retin Obasohan and Arthur Edwards. While Obasohan had a large contingent of family and friends, but Edwards' parents were unable to attend owing to the poor health of his mother. In a display of solidarity, the entire Alabama team stepped in as his surrogate family, escorting Arthur to midcourt.
If only that unity had been in play when the ball was tipped off. Instead, the Tide came out lethargic, particularly on the offensive end where everyone aside from Obasohan and Shannon Hale struggled.
Defensively, the Tide played the perimeter well. Alabama continually forced the Hogs off of the three-point line, where they are one of the best shooting teams in the country, at 41%. The Tide held Arkansas to only 11 attempts and three makes from deep, but were burned repeatedly by the dreaded mid-range jumper. Still, the Hogs big three all managed to hit triple digits: Moses Kingsley scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots. Anthlon Bell added 17, and Dusty Hannahs contributed 10 points.
Arkansas held a seven-point half time lead at 34-27 over a lagging Tide team. But, the second half was a different story. After the break 'Bama's defense picked up its intensity, and turned defensive stands into offense, allowing the Tide to quickly closing the gap.
Obasohan was his usual brilliant self, getting to the hole at will and scoring, or getting fouled, or both. The pressure defense allowed the Tide to draw even, and take a small lead, which was traded back and fourth most of the second half.
His 32 points would not be enough, however.
Obasohan hit one of two free throws with 3:38 left to put the Tide up 58-57. Kingsley rebounded a miss at the other end and put in back in for a 59-58 lead that the Hogs never relinquished. With 1:37 left 'Bama missed and Shannon Hale was shoved out of bounds trying to rebound, but alas no call. (SEC Officials, Am I right?)
The Tide then had two bad possessions in a row out of time outs with a chance to take the lead, once not getting a shot off, once settling for shot clock beating three attempt by Justin Coleman. With 13.4 seconds remaining Obasohan had a decent look on a drive, but the ball would not fall. The Tide rebounded and Coleman jacked a quick three with about four seconds left. When Arkansas rebounded the Tide had to foul, and Bell hit both free throws for a four point lead. 'Bama got the ball into Obasohan, who hit a 30 footer at the buzzer, to cut the final margin of defeat to 62-61.
Per usual, Obasohan was the best player on the court, finishing with 32 points on 10-19 shooting, 3-5 from three point range. Shannon Hale tossed in 10 points and had four rebounds. Donta Hall continues to impress and scored five points with a team leading seven rebounds, and five big blocked shots. Michael Kessens also had seven rebounds. No one else contributed much. Edwards hit a couple of threes and scored six points in his last (regular season) game at Coleman Coliseum. Meanwhile, Riley Norris, Kessens, Jimmie Taylor, and Coleman all added only two points each.
For the game the Tide shot 20-45 for 44%, 6-18 (33%) from three and once again lost the game at the free throw line, hitting only 15-23 for 65%, many of those the front end of one and ones. Arkansas only shot 41%, but took 13 more shots. The Hogs were 3-11 from three and 11-15 (73%) from the free throw line. Arkansas won the battle of the boards 36-30.
This was another bad home loss for the Tide, their fourth home loss in SEC play. A visit to Athens to play the Georgia Bulldogs looms on Saturday at 3pm and will be the last regular season game. The game will be shown on the SEC Network. The SEC Tournament starts on March 9th. Seeding will be determined after the regular season ends on Saturday.
Overall it has been an exciting and rewarding season under first year coach Avery Johnson. The loss of freshman star Dazon Ingram after seven games hurt the team in many ways, and who knows what could have been with him on the court. The team has over achieved and Obasohan has to be the most improved player over the course of his career of any Alabama basketball player in history. Roy Rogers is the only one that comes to mind that may challenge that assertion.
Here's hoping the Tide finishes strong. The future sure looks bright.
Buckle Up and Roll Tide