The Crimson Tide mens’ basketball team almost got run out of Thompson-Bolling Arena in the first half on Saturday, but answered with a 13-0 run coming out of the half to take the second half lead. The Vols led 44-32 at the break on the strength of 60% field goal shooting, mostly layups and dunks. The Tide trailed 16-4 early before John Petty came off the bench, and along with Donta Hall, rallied the Tide.
The twelve point deficit wasn't ideal, but it could have been much worse. With Grant Williams and John Bone having their way inside, the Tide could not stop the Vols. At the break UT was 18-30 for 60%, including 2-5 from three point range and 6-8 from the free throw stripe. Alabama “heated up” to 38% on 12-31 shooting, including 4-11 (36%) from deep and made 4-5 from the free throw line. Coach Avery Johnson went with the starting five of Hall, Kira Lewis, Dazon Ingram, Herbert Jones, and Tevin Mack. However, Petty logged 12 first half minutes off the bench, while Avery Johnson Jr., and Alex Reese both were in for 11 minutes. Mack was only on the floor for seven minutes and shot 0-4 while in. Hall and Petty both had 10 points in the frame, while Lewis added seven.
Whatever coach Johnson did/said at halftime needs to be bottled. Petty took Mack’s starting spot after the break and came out on fire. hitting two quick threes and a drive to bring the Tide close. When Lewis drained a three ‘Bama closed within one point. Jones followed with a driving layup, and a 13-0 run had the Tide ahead at 45-44 with 16:28 left in the game.
At this point ‘Bama could have shot out to a comfortable lead simply by making free throws. Alas, it was not to be. Petty and Ingram both missed a pair of freebies, and the Vols retook the lead by six. Petty found his more comfortable range, from behind the arc, and hit two in a row for a tie game at 55-55. With 8:18 left Hall followed up a miss with a massive slam and the Tide held a 61-58 lead. Meanwhile the men in Crimson continued their stellar second half defensive performance, and maintained a small lead.
Some questionable offensive possessions followed with the Tide missing on five straight trips, all on three points attempts, by players not names Petty. With 5:15 left one of the Tide’s better free throw shooters, Reese, was fouled and sent to the line for 1-1. Reese missed the first, making the team 5-14 for the game at that point. A Lewis runner in the lane with three minutes left made it 65-63 ‘Bama. UT tied it on a short basket, then with 2:33 left Lewis was called for a charge, and the Vols capitalized with a hoop to take the two point lead.
Ingram was fouled, and made one of two. The Tide got the ball back and Petty had his three attempt from the corner blocked on a great play by Grant Williams. One little pump fake would have freed him up, and Hall was also wide open under the basket. Down by three with 30 seconds left, Hall was fouled and MADE BOTH FREE THROWS, for a 69-68 deficit. Hall then made the defensive play of the day by drawing a charge on Williams with just over 11 seconds left. Down by one, on the road, against the third ranked team in the country, the Tide had a chance, a real chance. Lewis drove the ball to the top of the key and worked a pass to the hot hand, Petty. Petty made a move, started his dribble, and.... was called for traveling by referee Brian Shey. On looking at replay it appeared to be a call that shouldn't have been made, particularly at the juncture of the game, when two teams had battled so hard. That said, if the Tide just shoots their normal 70% at the free throw line, they win the game.
Alabama shot 13-28 (46%) in the second half, including 6-15 (40%) from deep, but an atrocious 4-13 from the free throw line. The team defense improved to hold UT to 10-34 (29%) in the second half, including 1-7 from deep, and 6-8 from the free throw line. For the game the Tide finished 25-59 (42%), 10-26 (39%) and 8-18 from the free throw line, while grabbing 41 rebounds with 13 assists and 13 turnovers. Tennessee finished 28-64 for 44% , and 3-12 from deep and a robust 12-16 from the free throw line. The Vols gathered 36 rebounds and had 16 assists against nine turnovers.
Petty finished with 30 points in 32 minutes on the back of 6-10 from deep. Hall continued to pile up double-doubles, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Lewis added 12, and no one else had more than three points. The Vols put four players in double figures, lead by reining SEC Player Of The Year, Williams with 21. Admiral Schofield had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
You can't say enough about the halftime adjustments. The Tide came out like a new team, and played with fire and determination. Playing arguably the best team in the country to a near win on the road is applaudable, but it still is not a win. The frustrating thing is if the Tide had just made some free throws the story would have a different ending. Johnson tightened up the second half rotation, leaving Lewis and Petty in for the entire twenty minutes. After Mack came out early in the first half, he never returned, playing only seven minutes in the game. ‘Bama only used 17 bench minutes in the second half, after using 41 in the first half. This might be a strategy going forward to take advantage of. However is Johnson continues to insist on playing 10-11 guys major minutes, a full court game might play better to the strengths of those numbers. Moral victories don't count for anything, but today the Tide showed they can play with the best in the county.
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