By Chris DePew
November 24, 2016
Just when Alabama looked poised to take a brutal non-conference loss, the Crimson Tide rallied from a nine-point deficit in the closing minutes Wednesday night to knock off Saint Louis 62-57 in the consolation game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event tournament in Las Vegas.
What did we learn today?: How little margin for error this team still has. Alabama still hasn’t lost to a clearly inferior team under Avery Johnson, but like last year’s squeakers over Southern Miss and Jacksonville State, this was much too close for comfort. The Billikens went 11-21 last season and have already been blown out twice as they begin a deep rebuild under new coach Travis Ford. But SLU led for much of the game by getting to the foul line and edging out Bama on the boards. If it hadn’t cooled off from the field late and wilted under defensive pressure, Saint Louis easily could have sent the Tide home with a losing record.
What was the best part of the game?: Back-to-back 3-pointers by Braxton Key and Nick King just before the final media timeout gave a suddenly desperate team fresh hope, cutting a 54-45 Billikens lead down to just three points. Until those shots went in, Bama was a nightmarish 3-for-16 from behind the arc. But the Tide made two more triples down the stretch and ended the game on a 17-3 run.
Who was the star?: Key got his first collegiate start a game sooner than Johnson originally planned, but the freshman earned his place at the grown-ups table. He shot 6-for-10 from the field for a game-high 16 points and was a much more polished passer than his lone assist indicates. In fact, the power forward was the primary ball handler in an unusual lineup down the stretch that saw Shannon Hale move into the post and Dazon Ingram and Corban Collins both function as shooting guards. That smaller lineup finally cracked the Saint Louis defense in the nick of time.
What were the biggest concerns?: Some nights you wonder why opponents would play anything but a 2-3 zone defense against Alabama. The Billikens scrapped their normal man-to-man and gave the Tide fits all night, as Bama stayed passive for long stretches and settled for long 3-point attempts that were open but didn’t flow from any kind of offensive rhythm. The one opening Bama could exploit was converting 19 SLU turnovers into 26 points.
What’s next?: Bama squeezes in one more home game this month when Charleston Southern visits Tuesday for a 6 p.m. Central tip on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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