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Unbuckled? ‘Bama blows big lead, giving the Tide its worst loss of the Avery Johnson era

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Avery Johnson failed this team tonight.

Alabama v Villanova

I think he’s pointing at all the dead weight on the court.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A tale of two halves.

The Crimson Tide managed to play well enough to sprint out to a 21-point half-time lead, then bad enough to lose at the buzzer on a three-point shot, 83-80 to Georgia State. The Crimson Tide played as good as they possibly could for the first 20 minutes, and then as bad as anyone could possibly fathom in the last 20 minutes.

Coach Avery Johnson inserted Tevin Mack into the starting lineup for the first time, and the smaller version of the Tide came out firing. Mack replaced the plodding Galin Smith and was joined by Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty, and Kira Lewis in the starting line up. When Dazon Ingram came off the bench, he and Lewis literally took over the first half. Ingram took, and made, his first two three-point shots of the season, and nailed them both. Lewis smoothly dropped in four shots from long range in the first stanza. Ingram was everywhere, rebounding, scoring, dishing, defending, using his size to his advantage. Lewis finished the first half with 16 points and Ingram added 13.

Georgia State is a small team, starting three 6’5” players and two that stand 6’3” — it’s a team that typically shoots the three-ball efficiently. At the half, the Tide was shooting a gaudy 59% (19-32), including 8-19 (42%) from the three-point range, and as a harbinger of things to come, 6-10 from the free throw line.

Georgia State was held to 13-32 (40%) shooting, including 5-13 (38%) from the three point line. With those numbers the Tide had a seemingly comfortable 52-31 half time advantage.

‘Bama came out with the same starting lineup in the second half, but not the same fire, enthusiasm, or execution. GSU slowly and calmly chipped away at the lead as the Tide struggled to score, once going over seven minutes without a field goal. The Panthers leading scorer, D’Marcus Simonds, struggled most of the night on 8-of-24 shooting, but put his team on his back down the stretch.

With 10 minutes remaining, the Tide still held a 65-51 lead, and with 8:15 left a 67-53 margin. Lewis made his only basket of the second half, hitting a three pointer with 4:40 left and a 73-66 lead.

From there, the free throw woes that have so often plagued the Tide over the years, reared their ugly heads. Alex Reese made one-of-two, Ingram missed two, Jones missed two, and then the lead was almost gone.

The Panthers scored with one minute left to take their first lead of the night, before Ingram tied things up with less than 30 seconds left. GSU worked the clock all the way down, worked the ball around the key and feed Malik Benlevi, who hit nothing but net from deep as the buzzer sounded, giving the Panthers their second win over an SEC team this season. Earlier this year GSU pounded Georgia by a 92-67 score.

After a fantastic first half of shooting, the Tide only managed eight-made field goals in the second half, going 8-19, (42%), which isn't awful, but the team took 32 shots in the first half. Bama was 2-of-9 (22%) from the three point line, and 12-21 (57%) from the free throw line in the second half. The Panthers improved to 17-34 from the field, 3-10 from deep, and 15-19 from the charity stripe.

Overall, the Tide shot winning percentages from the field, but lost the game at the free throw line. Bama was 26-56 (46%) overall, 10-28 (36%) from three point range, and a putrid 18-31 for 58% from the free throw line. The Tide won the battle of the boards 41-37 over the much smaller visitors, and had 10 assists, 10 turnovers, eight blocked shots, and five steals. GSU finished 30-66 (45%), 8-23 (35%) from tide, and 15-20 (75%) from the stripe. The Panthers also had 10 assists, 10 turnovers, with six steals.

Lewis and Ingram combined for 29 points in the first half, but only seven in the second half. Lewis led the way with 19 points, three rebounds, and only one turnover. Ingram had his best game in quite some time, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two turnovers in 28 minutes. Even though Tevin Mack started, and scored 12 points, he only played 19 minutes and was off the court during much of the late game play. Hall took advantage of his huge height difference, and tallied a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but it felt like he could have done so much more. Reese fought off a sprained ankle to play 15 minutes and score nine points with four rebounds. Petty could never get going and scored six points, on 2-5 shooting from three point range. Petty was also not in the game late, and played only 25 minutes, his lowest total of the year. Jones continues to fight the sophomore slump and couldn't find a basket, going 0-6 from the field and 1-6 from the free throw line, scoring only one point and grabbing four rebounds. Fifth-year senior Riley Norris saw his first action of the year, after a heart procedure, and scored four points in eight minutes of action.

Folks, this was the worst loss of the Avery Johnson era. To build such a big half-time lead, while playing great basketball, to coming out in the second half as if the game was already won and playing uninspired, unfocused basketball, particularly on the defensive end. Perhaps worse, Johnson was helpless against the adjustments Georgia State made — as the staff showed little urgency in adjusting to the zone.

Based on fans’ reaction the patience with coach Johnson is wearing thin, and the team will really need to turn things around quickly to try and win the many doubters back. I’m not sure what the answer is, but there are definitely a ton of questions. The next chance to find answers is Sunday at 12 noon as the Arizona Wildcats come to town. The game will be a national one on ESPN. Former ‘Bama point guard Justin Coleman will lead the Wildcats into Tuscaloosa.

RTR, Stay buckled, I heard a lot of belts being unbuckled tonight.

If you are a masochist you can follow @rogerpatmyers on Twitter for live updates