By Chris DePew
Feb. 11, 2016
Alabama built an 11-point lead against visiting No. 15 Texas A&M, squandered nearly all of it in the closing minutes and then got its luckiest break of the year when a 92-percent free throw shooter missed twice with 2.3 seconds left as the Crimson Tide escaped with a 63-62 victory, its fourth of the season against a Top 25 foe.
What did we learn today?: An NCAA tournament bid may still be a longshot, but an NIT berth is well within reach. Alabama sits at 14-9 with a Top 50 RPI and a rock-solid strength of schedule. With three winnable games left at Coleman Coliseum (Mississippi State, Auburn and Arkansas), the Tide should be able to make it back to the NIT if it runs the table at home. Should it do that plus steal another road game, it would finish at .500 in the league and at least be on the NCAA bubble entering the SEC tournament. It might seem fanciful, but for a team on its longest winning streak since mid-December, this is as good a time as any to dream big.
What was the best part of the game?: For some 34 minutes, Bama played its most complete game of the Avery Johnson era. Shots were falling, rebounds were grabbed, assists were dished out, defensive lanes were filled. After hesitating to pick up the pace early, the Tide started swiping the ball at will and breaking out for transition baskets. The senior-laden Aggies looked shell-shocked most of the night and played unusually passive, but one of the main reasons teams do that is because they’re getting outworked. A&M rallied brilliantly late and seemed poised to escape with the win before Anthony Collins faltered at the foul line. But make no mistake, the hungrier, more deserving, and yes better team won on Wednesday.
Who was the star?: Retin Obasohan didn’t have one of his better shooting nights (6-for-15 field goals, 4-for-7 free throws) but still led the Crimson Tide with 16 points and seemed to be the only one who could score in crunch time. But Bama’s point guard of last resort continued his recent improvement at distributing the ball, racking up five assists and also grabbing three of Bama’s 12 steals. Riley Norris scored all 11 of his points in the first half to stake the Tide to a 32-27 halftime lead and Donta Hall came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds, as Bama outdueled the Aggies 36-29 on the glass.
What were the biggest concerns?: Alabama made a strategic blunder in the final minutes, working the clock down on virtually every possession until someone was forced to fling up a shot off the dribble from well outside the paint. It gave life to the previously listless Aggies, particularly after a pair of defensive possessions where Alabama sent them to the line early in the shot clock. Whether it was fatigue or nerves, it was something that should have been corrected by the bench. Jimmie Taylor picked up two quick fouls to start the game and another just after halftime, limiting him to four points and three rebounds (although he did manage to defend well in extended stretches after getting in foul trouble).
What’s next?: The Crimson Tide begins a two-game road swing Saturday with a trip to a perennial nightmare spot, Florida’s O’Connell Center. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 4:30 Central time.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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