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Spartans Dish Out The Mercy Killing: 2019 ‘Bama Basketball put out of its misery

In a first round NIT game, No. 1 seed Alabama was defeated by Norfolk State in overtime 80-79, even as Herbert Jones shines

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Alabama
Kira Lewis (2) and Alex Reese (3) are good pieces to build on going forward for the Crimson Tide
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Executive Summary

Alabama followed a familiar script in losing their final game of the season on Wednesday night. As a number one seed in the NIT, the Tide had the potential for three home games leading up to the semifinals in New York City. The eighth-seeded Norfolk State Spartans had other ideas, winning 80-79 in overtime.

The loss ended the Tide’s season with a disappointing 18-16 record. The Spartans were were ranked 265th in the KenPom ratings, the lowest-ranked team Alabama has lost to since KP’s inception 18 years ago.

The game had all the things ‘Bama fans have grown accustomed in Johnson’s tenure, and particularly this year:

  • Build a double-digit second half lead, then blow it? Check
  • Commit way too many turnovers? Check
  • Miss free throws, particularly when most needed? Check
  • Head-scratching player rotations? Check
  • Lose to a team they should easily beat (18=point favorite!) Check

Coach Avery Johnson did nothing to cool down a hot seat that is getting warmer by the game.


Johnson trotted out a starting five of Donta Hall, Riley Norris, Galin Smith, Kira Lewis, and Herbert Jones. With the opening tip Norris set a record for most games played in an Alabama uniform, breaking a tie he held with Levi Randolph.

Norfolk started off with the early lead and the teams battled fairly evenly until Alex Reese entered the game and went off. At one point Reese nailed four straight three point shots, and made five in the first half, posting 17 points at the break. Reese’s hot shooting helped stake the Tide to a 35-28 halftime lead. Reese was helped by Dazon Ingram, who dished out six assists in the period.

After the break, Johnson stuck with the same five that started the game, leaving Reese on the bench to begin the half. Kira Lewis connected from long distance at the 18-minute mark, and the Tide had a seemingly comfortable 40-30 lead. Reese entered the game, but quickly was poked in the eye and never returned. Derrik Jamerson of the Spartans starting heating up from deep, and just like that the game was tied at 40.

Around the 12-minute mark, Herbert Jones discovered an offensive game that has been missing all season, and carried the Tide for about an eight-minute stretch. Tevin Mack was discovered from the end of the bench and hit a couple of long-range jumpers as the game went back and forth throughout the second half. With seven minutes left Lewis hit a three for a 58-56 lead, but the Spartans answered right away. John Petty had a breakaway with 4:40 left and the Tide took a 61-60 lead.

But, with a chance to build on its slim lead, ‘Bama continued to miss free throws.

Lewis was at the line with 1:48 left for two shots and a chance to tie the game, but made only 1-of-2. Just 34 seconds later, Donta Hall missed two free throw while the Tide trailing 67-64 and just over one minute remaining. Petty nailed a long three-pointer with under 20 seconds left to tie the game 67-67. Norfolk had the ball with a chance to win, and missed a point-blank shot and a tip at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

Hall got his first basket with three minutes left in overtime on a dunk, putting the Tide up 71-70. The Spartans then scored five straight to take a four-point lead with 1:15 left. Hall hit two free throws with 50 seconds left to keep the Tide down only 75-73. NSU hit a three, and Jones drove the lane, made the basket, and got fouled, made the free throw, and cutting the margin to 78-76. With 17 seconds left the Spartans made two more free throws for a three point lead. Jones, of all people, hit a three for the Tide with six seconds left, to cut the lead to one.

Norfolk pulled a page out of the Alabama inbound play book and turned the ball over under the Bama basket. With no timeouts left the Tide scrambled to run a play, inbounding to Norris in the corner. Norris drove toward the hoop and left a 10 footer short as the buzzer sounded, giving the Spartans one of the biggest wins in their history.

Neither team shot well, with the Tide connecting on 29-69 for 42%, including 11-30 (36%) from deep and an awful 10-17 (58%) from the free throw line. NSU hoisted 11 more shots, finishing 30-80 for 38%, 11-29 for 38% from deep, but the difference was their 9-11 for 82% from the free throw line — amazing how fundamentals win games, huh? The Spartans outrebounded the bigger Tide 49-45. Bama had 16 turnovers, 17 assists, six blocks, and five steals. Norfolk dished 10 assists, had 11 turnovers, two blocks, and 12 big steals.

Jones led the Tide with 18 points on 6-10 shooting, and added three rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Reese had 17 points on 5-10 shooting, 5-10 from deep. Petty scored 11 points and added five rebounds and five assists. Lewis had 10 points as the only other player in double figures. Hall only scored six points, but did grab 12 rebounds. Norris was shutout of the scoring column but had seven rebounds in his final game in a Tide uniform. Ingram led in assists with six.

Bottom Line

There really is no excuse for the Tide losing to this vastly overmatched team.

Reese and Ingram being injured and missing the entire second half didn't help, but that fact shouldn't have mattered when playing a team such as Norfolk State. The baffling lack of ability to put away lesser teams doomed this team from the beginning of the season, starting with Georgia State and going on to Texas A&M and several other games.

There is talent on the team, but for a myriad of reason they never could put things together. Be it basketball IQ, lack of mental and physical toughness, and uneven and baffling rotations, things just never jelled the way they should have.

Now we just wait and see what the future of Johnson and the program holds. Despite a lot of rumors going around, unless Johnson leaves on his own, it seems unlikely a change will be made at the top. There are rumblings of some player defections, and there could be some coaching staff shakeup. It will be interesting to see what Athletics Director Greg Byrne will do after the disappointing season.

Roll Tide.

Are we still going to Buckle Up or is it time for a new direction?