The Alabama Crimson Tide may have played their best game of the year, battling the 4th ranked Purdue Boilermakers tooth and nail before falling 92-86.
The Tide had a 12-point lead in the second half but couldn't close the deal. Alabama fell to 6-3 while Purdue improved to 9-1.
Boilermaker big man, Zach Edey — the returning NCAA Player of The Year, proved too much for Bama, scoring 35 points in 37 minutes. It certainly did not help that the 7’4” Edey was able to travel with reckless abandon and foul within impunity — literally ripping the jersey of Mohamed Wague before a whistle was called. We are not much for blaming officiating here, but Alabama faced a tall order before seemingly playing much of the game 5-on-8.
Despite giving up 92 points, the defensive effort for the Tide was great to see. Tonight, the Tide just turned it over too much in the second half, doubling their turnovers from the first half, 9 to 5, and then the torrid shooting pace fell off when needed it the most.
As much as one can claim a moral victory in defeat, Coach Nate Oats dialed up the perfect game plan, and the effort was there for all forty minutes. If the team will play with the same effort and tenacity the rest of the way, they will win a lot of games.
Coach Nate Oats sent out a starting five of Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Rylan Griffen, Grant Nelson, and Mohamed Wague to begin the game.
The Tide came out cooking, Estrada had the first five points of the game on a floater and a three pointer. Nelson hit from three for a quick 8-0 margin. Defensively Bama was swarming and doubling down on the 7’4”, 300 pound Edey and controlling him as well as they could. Nelson and Sears hit from long distance and at the first time out the Tide was leading 16-9. With 15:02 left in the period another Sears three pointer made the lead 19-9. Wague joined the long range brigade and hit his first three pointer of the year, making the score 22-14 and 6-10 made three’s for Alabama.
Purdue went on 14-4 run and with 4:29 left the score was 34-32 Alabama. Sears continued to scorch and Latrell Wrightsell, Jr, hit a pair of long range shots. At the half the Tide held a 49-47 lead, but Wague and Nick Pringle had both been whistled for three fouls.
Bama shot 15-30 in the first with 13-25 of those from three point range. The Tide made 6-8 free throws, had 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one blocks, five turnovers, and had been called for 14 fouls. Sears scored 15 on 4-6 shooting from deep and Wrightsell added nine while making 3-4 from beyond the stripe.
Purdue made 15-27 shots in the half, with 3-7 from deep and 14-17 at the free throw line. The Boilermakers had 16 rebounds, nine assists, four steals, four turnovers, and were only called for eight fouls. Edey shot 6-10 from the field and 6-6 at the line for 18 points and gathered only two rebounds.
Both teams used the same starters for the second half, and again the Tide came out hot, scoring the first eight points of the period. However, Bama was called for three fouls in a three-second span, a harbinger of things to come. With 16:30 left Sears was one on one with Edey and broke the big man’s ankles before rising up and nailing another three-point shot for a 58-49 Bama lead.
Purdue benefited from yet more dubious foul calls on the Tide’s bigs to get back in the game. Wague and Pringle both had four fouls with over 15 minutes still left in the game. With the score 60-57 in favor of Bama, Oats had seen enough of the foul discrepancy and was called for a technical foul. The ploy worked. The Boilermakers were on a 12-0 run, but did finally get called for a foul in the half. In fact, the next six were called on Purdue.
The Tide kept battling and chipping away at the Purdue nine-point lead. Sears and Griffen hit from deep and the deficit was 75-72 with 5:25 left in the game.
Edey was finally called for a foul, much to his dismay, and it turned into a flagrant for a hook and hold on Wague. Wague was only able to make 1-2 from the stripe, but the margin was two with 4:52 remaining. When Sears hit his 7th three pointer of the game the Tide retook the lead 76-75 at the 4:39 mark. Edey scored on a give and go pass from Braden Smith to give PU the lead for good.
‘Bama was able to stay close at 80-79 when Sears hit his career high eighth three point shot. Smith made a jumper in the paint and a long three pointer to keep the Boilermakers just out of reach of the Tide.
With 20 seconds left and down five, Sears stole an inbounds pass and made a layup to make the score 89-86. The Boilermakers were able to make enough free throws to make the final score 92-86.
In the second half Alabama cooled down to 14-33 for 42% including only 6-22 for 27% from deep, while making 3-6 (just six!) free throws.
Overall, the Tide finished 29-64 for 45%, 19-46 from deep for 41%, and 9-14 for 64% from the line. Alabama had 32 total rebounds, 20 assists, five blocks, five steals, and 13 turnovers. Sears had a career day with 35 points on 13-25 shooting, 8-16 from deep, and added four rebounds and a steal.
Nelson, who was questionable to play, scored 11 points in 27 minutes and lead the team with seven rebounds and five assists. Wague played another strong game and scored 11 points while battling the behemoth in the middle, and added three assists. Griffen had an underrated game with eight points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Wrightsell scored all nine of his points in the first half. Wague fouled out in 20 minutes of action while it only took Pringle nine minutes for be disqualified.
Purdue hit 15 of 35 shots in the second for 43%, with 5-11 from three point range and 10-11 at the free throw line. Overall the Boilermakers were 30-62 for 48%, 8-18 for 44% from three and a huge 24-28 at the free throw line for 86%. Purdue won the boards with 37 rebounds, had 22 assists, two blocks, nine steals, and only nine turnovers.
Edey scored 35 points in 37 minutes with seven rebounds, two assists, and oddly no blocks or steals. Smith knocked down 27 points with eight assists, as he and Edey combined for 62 of the teams 92 points.
After the game, Coach Oats was nothing but proud of his team, saying “Purdue is the best team in the country, and we battled them for 40 minutes”, adding, “we have to figure out how to win some of these big games.” Oats mentioned that his team needed to shoot better at the free throw line and also got out rebounded. Though, the Tide finally did attain some volume perimeter shooting that Oats has stressed all season.
You can't ever really be happy about a loss, but the Tide showed a lot of toughness and grit, and would not give up in the game. That intensity will need to be a part of every game going forward — no taking a game off against so called “lesser” opponents. Sears has been outstanding all year, but the team will need consistency from Estrada, Estrada, Griffen, and others as the season progresses.
Even an unbiased observer would have to see that officials can't figure out how to call a game with someone the size of Edey involved. No excuses, but when a team shoots twice as many free throws as their opponent, they are hard to beat.
Next up, the gauntlet continues with a road trip to Creighton next Saturday in a 1 p.m. matchup, followed by a Wednesday game with Arizona in Phenix. The Creighton game will be shown on FOX.