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Auburn 82, Alabama 77: Hard questions ahead in wake of Johnson’s second-year slump

By staff
Feb. 4, 2017

Alabama surrendered 15 3-pointers to Auburn on Saturday and a furious late rally could do little more than turn another potential blowout into a bitter 82-77 loss against the Tigers at Coleman Coliseum.

What did we learn today?: Avery Johnson is staking his Crimson Tide career on next season’s heralded freshman class, whether he like it or not. Johnson has earned a lot of goodwill from a fan base that was burned out on the dour, distant Anthony Grant. But Johnson’s results haven’t matched his hype. Neither of his teams has come close to displaying the uptempo, high-pressure style he promised to anyone with a microphone or notepad in his first months on the job. Instead Bama plays a plodding, inefficient style that is among the nation’s worst at producing assists or hitting jump shots. Out of the five players on this season’s who were playing at the end of last spring, Donta Hall and Riley Norris have gotten slightly better, Jimmie Taylor has gotten worse and Shannon Hale and Brandon Austin are still on the squad in name only. Excluding one-and-done grad transfers, Johnson only brought in a two-man recruiting class over the summer, and junior college transfer Ar’Mond Davis can charitably be called a bust. That leaves next year’s recruiting class, widely believed to be the best in school history. But truly great players don’t stay around long enough to slowly build a contender, so the heat will be on Johnson next year to do more than merely reach the NCAA tournament for the first time. And if he continues to lose three-quarters of his games against Auburn, he’ll sadly become unbuckled from Tuscaloosa sooner rather than later.

What were the biggest concerns?: At a school where “Process” has practically become an 11th commandment, Bama’s multiple breakdowns over the bulk of the game are far more telling than the deceptively close final score. The Tide committed 15 turnovers, allowed Auburn to hit 50.9 percent from the field and a ridiculous 55.6 percent from long-range. And whatever magic spell had improved Alabama’s foul shooting the last few games expired on the midweek flight home from Arkansas, as the Tide matched Auburn’s 13-for-22 showing from the line. The Tigers pushed out to a 15-point late and credit Alabama for a late rally to make it interesting at the end. But frankly the closing sequence had more to do with a young Auburn team that has looked mediocre in the SEC outside of its sweep of Bama. The Tigers were throwing wild, panicky passes in the backcourt and failing to hustle back to protect the rim. But by that point Alabama had gotten caught up in playing Auburn’s style and the hole was too deep.

What was the best part of the game?: A gaudy 47-28 rebounding advantage feels like fool’s gold given that Bama seemed to concentrate so much on packing the lane that it never consistently got out to the arc to disrupt Auburn’s shooters. But grabbing as many offensive rebounds (21) as the Tigers got on defense is an impressive feat, especially since the Tide shot a not-bad 43.1 percent from the field. Bola Olaniyan had eight boards while Hall and Braxton Key grabbed seven each. Speaking of Key, he had another rough shooting night from the floor but bucked the trend at the line, going 8-for-11 to finish tied for the night’s scoring lead with 17 points.

Who was the star?: Corban Collins went 6-for-13 from the floor, sank all three of his 2-point attempts, matched Key with 17 points and did not turn it over despite playing heavy minutes after Dazon Ingram racked up two fouls before the first media timeout.

What’s next?: After two demoralizing losses, Bama faces back-to-back ranked teams for the first time all year, beginning with a trip to the new conference leader, No. 19 South Carolina. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 5:30 p.m. Central time Tuesday.

Follow on Twitter @TideFansChris

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