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Alabama basketball drops a heartbreaker to Penn in season opener

In Nate Oats first game as coach, the Crimson Tide put up a valiant effort, but fell just short.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Texas Tech vs Buffalo Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Oats’ first Alabama team took the floor on Tuesday night in their season opener versus Pennsylvania. The already short-handed team fought hard but shot and defended poorly, and fell by a score of 81-80 in a thrilling finish at Coleman Coliseum.

The Tide has already lost inside player James Rojas and wing player Juwan Gary to season ending knee injuries. On top of that James “Beetle” Bolden has been nursing a wrist injury, and Alex Reese has a bad hip. Bolden and Reese both have missed the team’s last four practices. Add in the baffling case of Jahvon Quinerly still being held hostage by the NCAA and Bama’s roster is mighty thin. On top of all that, the team’s best defender, Herbert Jones, played only 10 minutes in the game after a scary fall caused a hyper extended elbow. Jones did not return, and he will receive an MRI tomorrow to check the severity of the injury.

The first half was back and forth, with both teams spurting out to four-to-six point leads throughout, before settling on a tie at 35-35. Penn shot 41% (14-34) in the first stanza, including 4-15 (27%) from three point range and 3-4 (75%) from the free throw line. At the break, the Tide was shooting a miserable 31% (11-36) from the field, despite hitting 7-17 (41%) from deep. Bama also hit 75% (6-8) from the line.

Bama, led by Kira Lewis, continually got to the rim in the first, but could not finish. Turnovers and missed opportunities cost the team several easy baskets. Point blank shots didn't fall, and Penn blocked or altered several of those.

The Quakers came out hot after the half and scored eight straight to take a comfortable lead. Each time Penn would seemingly pull away, the Tide bared down and found an answer. Lewis was a blur, blasting to the basket, and received some help from John Petty, Jaden Shackelford, Bolden, and Reese.

With six minutes left the Tide trailed by a score of 70-61, and could have folded up their tents and gone home. However, the patched together team got an old—fashioned three point play from Shackelford to cut it to four with five minutes left. After cutting the lead to 74-73, and with a stop and a chance to take the lead, the Tide turned the ball over, followed by a three point basket by Penn for a 77-73 scored with 3:11 left. Reese hit two free throws to cut it to 77-75, and the defense made a nice stop. However, Petty fumbled the rebound out of bounds and Penn stretched the lead. Reese barreled through the lane for a big dunk to tie the score. The Quakers went back up by two before a key call went against the Tide. Petty followed a missed shot and flushed the ball home to tie the game up, but not according to the referees. Petty was called for basket interference on a questionable call. After a long review of the play, the call somehow stayed. Watching the replays, the ball was clearly out of the cylinder.

Lewis hit a huge three with 15.5 seconds left to put the Tide in front 80-79. The Quakers got a basket on a runner, as the shooter was sliding (traveling anyone?), with 7.5 ticks remaining. The Tide got what they wanted, the ball in Lewis’s hands with a chance to win. On a drive to the hoop the young sophomore was fouled. The 80% plus free throw shooter went to the line with a chance to win, or at worst put the game in overtime. After a brilliant game, Lewis missed both attempts, and the rebound by the Quakers ran the clock out, and Penn took the thrilling 81-80 victory.


Penn stayed consistent in the second half, 15-34 for 44%, with 4-11 from deep and 12-16 from the stripe. The Tide improved to 40%, (16-40), but fell to 4-21 (19%) from the three point line, and only 9-14 ( 64%) from the free throw line. Overall the Tide heaved up 76 shots, but only made 27 of them for 35%, including 11-38 (29%) from deep and 15-22 (68%) from the free throw line. Penn finished 29-68 for 42% and 8-26 (30%) from deep and 15-20 (75%) from the free throw line. The Tide won the battle of the boards 42-38, 17 of which were on the offensive end. Both teams turned the ball over 15 times, and both had 10 assists. Bama blocked five shots to four for the Quakers, and had more steals, 10 to UP’s eight. The game was even in almost every category, but the Tide couldn't make the one play they needed to grab the victory.


Despite the missed free throws at the end, Lewis was the clear star of this contest. The preseason All-SEC pick scored 30 points, hitting 11-22 from the field, with 4-10 from deep, added eight rebounds, and five assists, but also had five turnovers and was only 4-7 from the line. Shackelford scored 16 while only hitting 6-20 from the field, including 3-13 from deep. Bolden added 10 points in 26 gritty minutes. The diminutive grad transfer gives it his all on the court, and has his wrist wrapped in a huge ice contraption when he is on the bench. Petty added nine points and seven rebounds, but seemed out of sync much of the night. Freshman Jaylen Forbes was pressed into more action than expected and grabbed eight rebounds in 17 minutes on the court. Big men Galin Smith and Javian Davis weren't able to contribute much, combing for 27 minutes, two points, six rebounds, and seven fouls.


Penn is a good, veteran, well-coached team. AJ Brodeur is a 6’8” bruiser who led the team in scoring, rebounds, and assists, last year. Tuesday night he had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. The Tide’s inside players could not handle him. Four star freshman Jordan Dingle was the leading scorer with 24 points and also had seven boards.


One game does not a season make, but it would have been nice to start with a W at home, over a quality team. Losing the team’s best defender after only 10 minutes was definitely a factor in a one point loss. In his post-game press conference Oats wasn't shy about questioning some of the calls by the officials. On the basket inference call on Petty, he lamented that “what’s the use in having replay if you still aren't going to get the call right”, and also mentioned what he thought were ticky tack foul calls on plays in the paint. Oats said that his team needed to finish plays, including scoring at the rim, and not dropping rebounds out of bounds, and getting loose balls and 50/50 balls at a higher rate.

On one hand, the crowd of over 11,000 saw a different brand of Alabama basketball. Fast paced, three point shooting, hustling, with a definite plan. On the other hand, some things felt very familiar - free throw shooting - things that have led to several losses over the last few years. The injury situation was a huge factor, and the Quinerly situation is frustrating. Oats says there will be a phone appeal on Monday, with the possibility of a resolution by game time that night. Let’s hope for the best for that, and for Jones’ elbow.


The next game is Monday the 11th at 7 p.m. against Florida Atlantic in Coleman. The game will be only available on SEC Network Plus.

Roll Tide, #BallAndOats

Follow @rogerpatmyers on Twitter for live, in game, updates