By Chris DePew
Feb. 27, 2016
After playing to the knife’s edge of season-crushing disaster, Alabama kept its postseason dreams alive by outscoring Auburn 15-8 over the last six minutes to escape with a 65-57 win at Coleman Coliseum.
What did we learn today?: This offense has to be rebuilt before next season. The Crimson Tide is still on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid, a remarkable achievement in Avery Johnson’s first season. But Bama’s coach has said the long-term goal is not just to be a part of March Madness but to win games and become an elite program. Right now, no Alabama player who will be back next year has an offensive game polished enough to shine on the big stage. For all the grief Alabama fans gave Anthony Grant for his plodding, low-scoring style, this year’s team is averaging a fraction of a point less than the 2014-15 squad, while shooting worse from the field and the foul line. Saturday the offense wilted at the end of the first half when Retin Obasohan left with two fouls and was slow to reignite as the Tiger went on a 15-3 run to put Bama down 10 points. A deeper opponent (or one that could sink free throws) could have easily spent Bama spiraling to a third consecutive loss.
What was the best part of the game?: Donta Hall’s fire. Sometimes a rivalry game is more about passion than poise. The freshman from Luverne only got to play 16 minutes before fouling out, but he made all of them count. Five offensive rebounds (out of eight overall) led to four dunks and a tip-in and he also threw in two blocks. While nobody is ready for this year to end, it’s hard not to daydream about the improvement he could make with an offseason’s worth of development in the gym and the weight room. By contrast Michael Kessens probably hit his ceiling as a player long ago, but the junior from Switzerland gave the Crimson Tide everything he possibly could Saturday, with seven points and three rebounds.
Who was the star?: Obasohan didn’t have an aesthetically pleasing game by his standards, shooting under 50 percent and bricking four free throws. But with the season on the line he delivered once again, scoring 10 of his 16 points over the final 6:45 as Bama went from a three-point deficit to an eight-point win. His six rebounds and three assists were also key.
What were the biggest concerns?: Alabama shot under 40 percent from the field, which is disappointing but not unexpected by now. But the Tide nearly popped its own bubble at the foul line, going 17-for-29 (which somehow was still better than Auburn’s brutal 12-for-27 showing). Bama grabbed one more rebound than the Tigers but let Cinmeon Bowers trounce them on the glass again, adding 13 rebounds to the 18 he has in the January meeting. Riley Norris struggled with his shot again, going just 2-for-6 from the field (four points) with a couple of fingers taped together on his shooting hand.
What’s next?: Alabama moves from one must-win home game to another as Arkansas provides the opposition for Wednesday’s senior night. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 8 p.m.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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