Oregon 72, Alabama 68: Plenty of positives despite heartbreaking loss

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Dec 21, 2015; Birmingham, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide forward Riley Norris (1) drives to the basket as Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24) defends at Legacy Arena. The Ducks defeated the Crimson Tide 72-68. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2015; Birmingham, AL, USA; Crimson Tide forward Riley Norris (1) drives to the basket as forward Dillon Brooks (24) defends at Legacy Arena. The Ducks defeated 72-68. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-

Birmingham native Justin Coleman scored a career-high 24 points in his return to his hometown but let a 12-point halftime lead slip away and dropped a 72-68 decision to at Legacy Arena.

What did we learn today?: is a year ahead of schedule. While no loss feels good and it’s frustrating to think how close came to extending its to six games, but some perspective is in order. Even the most optimistic preseason projections pegged to finish in the bottom third of the SEC, and that was before injuries began to scramble the starting lineup. But Monday the Tide went toe-to-toe with a team that may have more pure talent than anyone it will see outside of Kentucky and perhaps Vanderbilt and played on even terms, without resorting to gimmicks. Even after the seized the lead with a 23-6 run, Bama never fell behind by more than six, clawed back to tie and had chances to win down the stretch. It was a huge improvement from disheartening blowouts to Dayton and Xavier last month and served notice that has a chance to at least return to the NIT, especially if it can get Shannon Hale healthy again.

What were the biggest concerns?: looked nothing like the SEC Player of the Week. He made just one of his nine shots from the field, none from behind the arc, and finished with five points and one rebound. Even a so-so night from the senior guard could have put over the top. started off white-hot from 3-point range, but even as it cooled off after halftime, the number of attempts increased. went from 5-for-8 in the opening 20 minutes to 4-for-13 in the second half as the Tide got away from feeding the ball into the paint.

What was the best part of the game?: The turnstile count. On a rainy weeknight away from home during the holiday break, gave the 14,508 in attendance everything but a win. There’s always been a solid base of basketball support at Bama, but several years of underachievement and aesthetically unpleasing play took a steep toll. Monday, those not only got a glimpse of what’s possible down the road, but a reason to make the trip to Tuscaloosa for this year’s conference schedule. The more excitement builds this year, the more it can goose and grease the wheels for quality matchups in seasons to come. The Tide hasn’t reached the promised land but it finally can see a glimpse.

Who was the star?: Coleman has matured dramatically since becoming the starting point guard. Against the Ducks he went 7-for-16 from the field, drained four treys and was perfect at the foul line. Add in his six assists and Coleman had a hand in well over half of ’s field goals.

What’s next?: takes another seven days off before returning to on Dec. 29 to face Jacksonville State on the SEC Network-Plus.

Follow on Twitter @TideFansChris

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