Alabama 80, Mercer 79: Bama almost blows up on launchpad at Rocket City Classic

Dec 9, 2017; Tucson, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Avery Johnson signals during the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 9, 2017; Tucson, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Avery Johnson signals during the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

By Chris DePew
TideFans.com Staff
Dec. 20, 2017

Alabama survived a cold shooting start, then squandered nearly all of an eight-point lead in the final 12 seconds before escaping with an 80-79 win against at the Rocket City Classic in Huntsville.

What did we learn today?: This team doesn’t look ready for the 10-week grind of the SEC schedule. Narrow escapes in front of friendly crowds against mid-major teams, even ones that are favored to win their conference, don’t inspire much confidence ahead of road trips to places like Lexington, Gainesville or College Station. Frankly, seeing Bama look poorly prepared and losing all poise at crunch time inspires little confidence against rivals such as Auburn, Tennessee or Mississippi State. None of those teams can match the Crimson Tide’s raw talent but all have coaches with better college resumes and superior in-game tactics to Avery Johnson.

Alabama looked rusty and uninspired after a 10-day layoff, missing its first 12 3-point attempts and allowing Mercer to build a seven-point lead midway through the second half. The Tide played inspired basketball for about a nine-minute stretch to regain control but inexplicably turned it over three times in the final 11.7 seconds as the Bears went on a 7-0 run and had a shot at the buzzer to finish the comeback. Alabama escaped by virtue of a 93-percent free throw shooter missing three times at the line, including the front end of a 1-and-1. Four of Bama’s last five wins have come by a combined nine points.

What was the best part of the game?: ’s emergence from nowhere. The freshman from Pelham didn’t play in Alabama’s last two games and hadn’t made a significant impact since the week before Thanksgiving. But with clearly rusty and a banged-up ineffective, Reese got to play 18 minutes and scored a career-high 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Who was the star?: It took a while to get on the board, but the Huntsville native finally found his scoring touch in the second half, scoring 12 of his 18 points and finishing the game with four treys. He and finally seem to be getting the chemistry going between them, combining for 39 points and seven assists.

What were the biggest concerns?: is rebounding well and seems to be back on track at the free throw line, but his jump shot has deserted him. He made just three of his 10 field goals against Mercer after going 2-for-10 at Arizona and is now down to 45 percent for the season after going 9-for-32 in his last four games. had a quiet game by recent standards, scoring just nine points and grabbing six rebounds against the undersized Bears. And Key was not only held scoreless but only attempted two shots and saw just 20 minutes of action. Rather than being the final piece falling into place, he looked more like an extra appendage grafted onto a lineup that didn’t know how to work him in.

What’s next?: Another game, another opposing 7-foot-plus center with NBA lottery potential. This time it is Texas and Mo Bamba providing the opposition in Birmingham’s Vulcan Classic. Friday’s 8 p.m. tipoff will be televised on ESPN2.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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