I think the Alabama basketball team probably stayed up too late last night watching the football team punch their ticket to the national championship game. I know I sure did, and I feel about as inspired to write about this loss as the Alabama players looked in this game.
In all reality, it didn’t seem like Alabama really even played a bad game of basketball. They shot 50% all night, and 37% from the three point line— both solid percentages. They shot 52 times to Vanderbilt’s 54, had 2 less rebounds and and 2 less steals than the Commodores.
So, what happened?
Vandy took 25 attempts (almost half of their shots) from three point range, and made 10 of them. They slowed the game pace down as much as they could, and were happy to let Alabama keep fighting for high percentage shots inside while they whittled away at the score with a constant barrage of never-ending 3 pointers.
The Tide was pretty streaky in the first half, jumping out to an early lead before falling behind and then surging back to take the lead 21-20. It wasn’t long after that Vanderbilt was leading 23-31, and then Alabama brought it back to 31-31 before the Commodores closed out the half with a 43-33 lead on a ridiculous scoring streak from Saben Lee.
The second half was a little more consistently slow-scoring for both teams most of the way through, and Vandy held on to a lead that never really got far out of reach, but was also never within a possession of Alabama having the chance to tie.
With 1:41 left in the game, Lee got yet another basket, slashing through the Tide defense like swiss cheese, and then Sexton tossed an alley oop up to Donta Hall, who tipped it in for two, Alabama trailing 67-74. That’s when Alabama decided to play a full court press for the first time, and some sort of switch flipped. Braxton Key stole the inbounds pass and got a quick basket off of it.
Donta Hall stole the ball again a few seconds later when they trapped the first man in the corner, and Dazon Ingram ended up getting a layup a second later. Then it happened for a third time in a row, and Ingram dove onto the ball after Vandy mishandled it and called timeout. Collin Sexton made his shot a few seconds later, and then the Tide was only down 1 point.
But instead of giving up, Vanderbilt broke the press and then called the old “pretend-to-lose-your-dribble-and-bounce-it-off-the-Alabama-player’s-stomach-to-trick-everyone-into-moving-towards-the-loose-ball-and-have-it-luckily-bounce-to-a-wide-open-guy-under-the-basket” play for an easy score.
Collin Sexton quickly drove through the Vandy defense for another score and Alabama fouled Vandy on the inbounds. Jeff Roberson missed his free throw and Sexton raced down the court and launched the ball from midcourt, but it just missed, and Alabama fell by 1 point: 75-76.
Sexton was the offense tonight, scoring 24 of the team’s 74 points, and added 5 assists and three steals. The commentators tonight were so awed by his performance and skills that they were happily agreeing to pay whatever admission it costed just to see him play (easy for them to say... they get paid to go to these games).
Donta Hall also had a big game, scoring 14 points and shooting 100%. He had 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Dazon Ingram actually out-blocked Hall with 3 blocks. Ingram and Braxton Key tied for 3rd on the team with 9 points each.
Herbert Jones also had a great night, though it doesn’t really show in the stat sheet. He had some crazy athletic hustle plays on some rebounds, a couple blocks, and a dunk that had the few Bama fans in the crowd pumped up.
All in all, it wasn’t a poor game from Alabama. They just didn’t do enough to overcome Vanderbilt hitting 10 three pointers. The Tide defense was pretty listless for much of the first 3⁄4 of the game before finally gaining some energy at the end. For a team led by freshmen 4 days after blowing out the #5 team in the nation while also recovering from likely a late night of watching the football team win a huge game, the outcome wasn’t really all that surprising.
It was just a little disappointing that Coach Avery Johnson didn’t have his team ready to avoid the predictable let down.
Oh well. There are plenty more games to go. Roll Tide!