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Vanderbilt 76, Alabama 75: Furious finish not enough to earn road win

By Chris DePew
TideFans.com Staff
Jan. 2,

Alabama shot 50 percent from the floor and erased most of a 15-point second-half deficit at Vanderbilt but couldn’t finish the comeback in a 76-75 setback in Nashville.

What did we learn today?: The Crimson Tide needs to make sure the players are taking the bulk of the shots. Collin Sexton led the team with 14 field goal attempts, which makes sense. Behind him were the struggling Braxton Key and backup guard Herbert Jones with eight shots each, which makes less sense. Dazon Ingram only attempted four shots, and even adding in his attempts that led to shooting fouls gets him up to seven. John Petty was a cold 1-for-6, but with his ability to light it up in a hurry he arguably should have taken more shots. Instead he spent the middle part of the second half on the bench with Sexton and then got ignored in the corner down the stretch.

What were the biggest concerns?: Vandy was a sizzling 8-for-16 from behind the arc in the first half but Bama didn’t really look bad except for the last four-plus minutes. Unfortunately, that’s when Commodores freshman Saben Lee took advantage of a lethargic defense to go on a personal 12-0 run to break open a tie game as Alabama found itself down 10 points at the break. Bama’s size advantage inside showed with the Tide outscoring Vandy 42-20 in the paint but the undersized Dores actually grabbed two more rebounds, which is nearly inexcusable.

What was the best part of the game?: The final 90 seconds when Avery Johnson finally unleashed the press. Vandy led 74-65 before Donta Hall answered with a layup with 1:28 to play. That’s when the Tide sold out on the full-court press and melted the lead away. A Key steal and layup cut it down to 74-69 and a second turnover turned into an Ingram basket that trimmed the deficit to three points with 1:08 left. A third Commodores turnover in as many possessions led to a Sexton jumper and Vandy was left scrambling again on the next possession before a fortuitous bounce led to a Djery Baptiste layup to stretch the lead to 76-73. Sexton had a final layup with six seconds left and Vandy should have been called for yet another turnover, as replay showed a player handling the ball with a foot on the baseline.

It isn’t realistic for Bama to burn that much energy on defense for long stretches, but it absolutely should be used for more than desperation situations. Johnson has to wonder if it could energize his squad during its semi-regular first half doldrums. It’s a potent weapon, and it needs to be regularly featured. The token pressure that he sometimes features during the regular course of play is no substitute either.

Who was the star?: Sexton had another fine scoring game, hitting better than half his shots, going perfect at the line and finishing with 24 points, but his five assists were another hopeful sign. Key wasn’t an efficient scorer but his nine points looked even better combined with six rebounds, four steals and three assists against just one turnover. And Hall made all six of his field goal attempts and finished with 14 points.

What’s next?: Bama will try to avoid the football rush and beat Georgia early. Saturday’s tipoff from Athens is set for 11 a.m. Central time on the SEC Network.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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