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By Chris DePew
Dec. 18, 2016
Alabama sunk to new depths in its worst performance to date this season, shooting a frigid 32 percent from the floor and turning it over 16 times as Clemson cruised to a 67-54 win in Birmingham.
What did we learn today?: That this team is rudderless because the upperclassmen are practically a lost cause. Sooner or later there is a price to be paid for years of shaky recruiting and the attrition that comes with a coaching change, and a look at the Crimson Tide’s top-level classes tells a grim tale. Out of four seniors, two are graduate transfers brought in over the summer from smaller schools and two (Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor) must regretfully be classified as recruiting busts unlikely to see the starting lineup again barring injury. Behind them are three juniors, two of whom are in their first year playing for the Tide and one (Riley Norris) who works hard but seems to have reached his ceiling and has also fallen out of the starting five. Experienced players can be brought in but leadership is a homegrown commodity. Bama displayed all the signs of a young team not getting much direction on the floor Sunday. It turned the ball over too much, it rushed up bad shots, it got the yips and couldn’t convert open looks and it looked generally panicky and uncertain outside the cocoon of its home arena. Now it will enter SEC play without a non-conference win of note and scrambling just to avoid finishing in one of the bottom four spots in the league. This year may be more about finding out who can lead for the future when next year’s freshman class brings in a desperately needed talent infusion than trying to salvage increasingly dim hopes of even an NIT bid.
What were the biggest concerns?: On the 19th anniversary of the birth of Festivus, Bama thoughtfully provided a laundry list of material for an airing of grievances. The mixing and matching of lineups trying to create an offensive spark isn’t working, and the idea of working the ball into the paint for shots seems to have been abandoned. Alabama is a bad 3-point shooting team that can’t admit it, going an excruciating 3-for-20 from behind the arc. Conversely, the Tigers made nine treys, and seemed to nail one to kill the Tide’s momentum whenever it produced the feeblest signs of rallying. Alabama had just seven assists and no player finished with more than two. Braxton Key shot a miserable 2-for-11, Corban Collins had five turnovers and left with a thigh bruise and Dazon Ingram (three points, three turnovers) got benched by the end of the game and looks less sure of his role than ever. The final margin doesn’t do justice to how thoroughly Clemson dominated the game. The Tigers led by 18 points and seemed to exert no more energy than necessary to keep the lead in double digits.
What was the best part of the game?: As tempting as it is to reply “none,” Alabama did manage to get to the foul line a lot and went a respectable 19-for-25 to avoid being utterly humiliated. And the Crimson Tide won the rebounding battle 37-32 on the strength of 10 offensive boards. Then again it supplied most of the raw material needed for those rebounds, lots and lots of missed shots.
Who was the star?: A good chunk of Avery Johnson Jr.’s 17 points came in garbage time, but on a day when none of his teammates could or would step up to help, he’s easily the pick. Johnson went 5-for-11 from the field, added three steals and played a team-high 28 minutes.
What’s next?: Bama will try to avoid going under the .500 mark against a dangerous Arkansas State. Tipoff from Huntsville’s Von Braun Center is Wednesday at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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