Somehow Alabama found a way to lose a game that they led for almost the whole way. From building an 11 point half time margin, to missing key free throws, to not being able to inbound the ball, to giving up a three point prayer that just beat the buzzer by T J Starks and banked in for a Texas A&M victory by a score of 81-80. The Aggies entered the game as the only team in the SEC with an overall losing record, at 6-7. The Tide is now 10-5, 1-2 on the year while A&M is 7-7, 1-2.
Coach Avery Johnson used his recent starting lineup of Donta Hall, Tevin Mack, Herbert Jones, Dazon Ingram, and Kira Lewis, and the team got out to a fast start. Bama ran out to an early 10-2 lead and stayed comfortably ahead through the period, despite a huge discrepancy in fouls called and free throw attempts. The Tide was moving the ball and knocking down shots from deep. Bama totaled 11 assists in the first half.
With Jones in early foul trouble John Petty entered the game early, and found his shooting eye, knocking down 6-8 three point attempts to help the Tide build their lead. At the break Bama was 16-32 from the field, including 7-15 from three point range, and 4-7 from the charity stripe. TAM was 12-32 from the field and a dismal 1-11 from deep in the first, but knocked down 7-10 from the free throw line. The Tide went into the locker room with a seemingly comfortable 43-32 lead.
At half time the 1988 SEC Champion Alabama basketball team was honored, led by their coach Wimp Sanderson. For those that were around in those days, Coleman was electric, as The Plaid Palace was the place to be. Lead by senior Michael Ansley and the late Alvin Lee the team finished 23-8 on the season. Seen at the game were Gary Waites, Keith Adkins, Melvin Cheatum, Ernest “Snake” Brown, Marcus Webb, Marcus Campbell, Bryant Lancaster, and James Sanders, along with the coaching, training, and managerial staffs. Robert Horry was a freshman on that team, and David Benoit a senior. Five players on the team, Ansley, Horry, Benoit, Webb, and Askins all went on to NBA careers.
In the second half the Tide came out flat and uninspired. The Aggies slowly chipped away at the lead, mostly by pounding the ball inside where the Tide had no answer for Josh Nebo and Savion Flagg. After losing their huge front line from last year, this edition for TAM has been a guard oriented team, (and not a very good one, at that.) However Nebo, who came into the game averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds per game, scorched the Tide for 21 points and 7 rebounds on 10-12 shooting.
The Aggies finally took their first lead of the game with 7:36 left on two mad free throws. At that point in the game Bama had hit 11-21 from the charity stripe. Lewis made two freebies for the Tide with 5 minutes left to five Bama a 71-69 lead. Things went back and forth from there, Lewis was stripped of the ball and TAM took it in for a layup and a 75-73 lead. Bama tied it again, and took the lead on two free throws by Hall at 77-75 with 1:38 remaining. The Tide lead 77-76 with 32 seconds left and had the ball out of bounds. Once again they could not get the ball inbounds, and Ingram was left holding the ball out of bound for a five count and a huge turnover.
Ingram bounced back to hit two free throws with 11.5 seconds left and a 79-77 lead. The Aggies fired up a wild three pointer which missed, but somehow got the rebound and spun in a put back with 4.8 seconds left. Lewis was fouled with 3.4 seconds left, and missed the first free throw. Coach Johnson chose not to put any rebounders on the line, and Lewis made the second shot. There were questions as to missing the second shot on purpose would be a better strategy, to help run clock. With no one on the line for rebounding, Lewis made then next shot for a lead of 80-78. The Aggies inbounded the ball to T J Starks, a lefty, who charged up the right side of the court, almost stepped out of bounds, and slung up a 40 foot prayer from the right hash, that somehow banked in for the 81-80 win. After a review by the referees the shot was called good, and the Tide had another heartbreaking loss at home by a buzzer beater. Both after blowing big leads (Georgia State, also.)
The Tide finished 26-62 for 42 %, including 10-27 (37%) from deep and a putrid 18-29 from free land for 63%. As usual Bama won the battle of the boards by a margin of 45-38. Petty led the way offensively with 22 points, and was joined in double digits by Hall with 14 points and 16 rebounds, along with four blocks, Lewis with 14 points, and Mack with 10. After dishing 11 assists in the first half, the team ended the game with only 13, and only had eight turnovers, with most of those being late in the game.
TAM shot 44% for the game, including an awful 3-19 for 15% from deep but made 22-30 from the free throw line for 73%. The Aggies only turned the ball over three times all night.
No way to sugar coat this one, a terrible loss, at home, to the worst team in the conference. Hall statistically had a huge game, but was bullied and pushed around all night down low. Jones was a total non factor because of foul trouble, fouling out with 11 minutes played and one point scored. Alex Reese was limited to only seven minutes by coaches decision. It is hard to lose a game when your opponent shoots 15% from three point range these days, but Bama found a way to do so.
Things will not get any easier, as the Tide heads to the road for their next two games, a Wednesday night game with Missouri and Saturday at Tennessee. The Mizzou game tips at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network, and the Vol game is set for 1 p.m. on either ESPN/ESPN2 or ESPNU.
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