So close yet so far away. The Crimson Tide battled cold shooting, foul trouble, and another top 10 opponent on Saturday night and couldn’t overcome that trio, falling 85-82 to 8th ranked Creighton in Omaha, NE. The game was tied at 44 at the half.
Coach Nate Oats started Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Grant Nelson, Mohamed Wague and Latrell Wrightsell, Jr as the starting five tonight. Oats inserted Wrightsell, an Omaha native, in place of Rylan Griffen.
The Tide started off cold and fell behind 8-1 with 17:19 left in the half. Sears finally made a layup for Bama’s first made field goal with 16:50 remaining. Wrightsell picked up two quick fouls and Griffen entered the game just four minutes into the game. By the under 12 minute timeout, the Tide had battled to tie the game at 14-14. Alabama finally took their first lead at 33-32 with 4:10 left in the half on a basket by Estrada.
Nick Pringle replaced Wague early in the game, also due to foul trouble, and used his quickness and jumping ability on rolls and lobs to the basket. Pringle was also called for his third foul with 2:20 left in the half. At the break the score was tied 44-44.
In the first half the Tide was shooting 19-40 for 48%, but only 1-11 from deep for .091%, and 5-7 from the free throw line. The men in Crimson had 18 rebounds- 10 on the offensive end- eight assists, four steals, and only two turnovers. Pringle led the way with 12 points and five rebounds and Jarin Stevenson added seven points.
The Bluejays shot a red hot 14-23 for 61% in the first while making 3-8 from three point range and made 13-17 free throws to keep them even with Bama. Creighton had 13 rebounds, five assists, and eight turnovers. Creighton big man, Ryan Kalkbrenner, rolled his ankle six minutes into the game and Bama took advantage of his absence to score in the paint. Kalkbrenner is the two time defensive player of the year in the Big East.
Griffen was back in the starting lineup for the second half with Sears, Estrada, Nelson, and Wague. Wague immediately picked up his fourth foul. Kalkbrenner got some magic treatment during the half and appeared to play without issue, scoring the first six points for the Jays. Griffen scored five straight points to help the Tide build a five point lead. With 14:45 left Bama led 58-52, while shooting 2-14 from three point range.
With 12:51 left in the game five Tide players had three fouls each. Pringle continued his fine play with a spinning drive and hoop, then got fouled on another attempt. However Pringle missed both free throws and with 10:00 minutes left Bama led 62-61. The teams traded the lead back and forth for the next several minutes as the Tide foul trouble got worse and worse. With eight minutes left Alabama had two players with four fouls and three players with three fouls, meanwhile Creighton had one player with three.
Creighton hit a three pointer after pushing the Tide defender out of the way with 5:40 left for a 72-66 lead. Sears finally made his first and only three pointer with 5:23 left to keep Bama within striking distance. The Bluejays were able to maintain a five point lead before Nelson hit his first, and only, three pointer to cut the lead to 74-72 with 2:50 remaining. However over the next minute the home team pushed it out to 81-74 and the Tide looked dead in the water. Sears made a layup to cut it to three and when Creighton turned the ball over with 12 seconds left the Tide had a chance to force overtime. When Sears was given a clear path to the basket he -questionably- took the layup to cut the lead to 83-82 with 3.8 seconds left. Bama immediately fouled on the inbounds pass and the Jays made both free throws, leaving the Tide 2.6 seconds to try and tie the game. Sears took the inbounds pass and shot a long three pointer from 35 feet that hit the board, went half way down the hole, and then rolled out, leaving Bama with another heartbreaking loss.
In the second half Alabama shot 16-35 for 46%, 3-11 for 27% from three, and made 3-6 free throws. Overall the Tide shot 35-75 for 47%, 4-22 for 18% from deep, and 8-13 for 62% at the free throw line. Bama finished with 37 rebounds, 10 assists, one block, five steals, and amazingly only four turnovers. Sears closed strong to finish with 19 points on 9-16 shoots, and added four rebounds. Pringle had his best offensive night with 15 points and secured seven rebounds while playing 23 minutes. Nelson scored 13 and had five rebounds. Griffen was solid in his 29 minutes, with 13 points on 6-8 shooting, four rebounds, and some strong defense. Wrightsell started, played 16 minutes, and failed to score in front of his hometown friends and family. Wague played a total of seven minutes before fouling out.
Creighton shot 15-29 for 52% in the half with 3-10 from three and 8-12 from the line. Overall the Bluejays finished 29-52 for 56%, 6-18 from deep for 33%, and won the game with 21-29 at the charity stripe. The home team finished with 32 rebounds, 14 assists, five blocks, one steal, and had 11 turnovers. Trey Alexander scored 22, Baylor Scheierman had 20 points with nine assists and six rebounds, and Balkbrenner’s remarkable recovery led to 19 points, eight rebounds, and three blocked shots.
Incredibly the Tide scored 62 points in the paint, took 23 more shots from the field than Creighton , made six more field goals than the home team, won the rebounding battle by five, and only turned the ball over four times, all recipes for victory. Bama has to learn to guard without fouling. And even though there were several questionable calls agains the visitors, the front court players are going to have to do a better job of defending without getting called for a foul. The four teams that have beaten the Tide have a combined record of 37-6 on the season.
This Tide team has been on the brink of some huge wins, but have not been able to get over the hump. Things aren't getting any easier next week as the teams travels to Phoenix, AZ to play the top ranked-for now- Arizona Wildcats. Arizona lost to Purdue today so they will likely fall in the rankings on Monday. The game will tip at 10 p.m. CT and will be available on ESPN. That game will end the gauntlet of top 10 oppositions, as Bama will play Eastern Kentucky and Liberty to close out 2023 before SEC play begins on January 6th.