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By Chris DePew
Jan. 17, 2018
John Petty lit up No. 17 Auburn for eight 3-pointers as Alabama overcame the absence of Collin Sexton and pulled within a game of first place in the SEC by springing the 76-71 upset at Coleman Coliseum.
What did we learn today?: Avery Johnson does his best work when he has less to work with. With Sexton unable to go with an abdominal injury and Donta Hall limited to rebounding and setting screens on offense (plus one putback dunk), the Crimson Tide appeared to be in deep trouble against their archrivals, who came in winners of 14 straight and averaging better than 86 points per game. But Johnson not only kept his team in the game psychologically, he did a masterful job working around the limitations of Hall’s wrist injury, juggling minutes between an ineffective Daniel Giddens and foul-prone Galin Smith and sneaking in just enough rest for Petty and Dazon Ingram to stay effective. It isn’t glamorous work and Johnson still must prove he can maximize a full-strength roster for the program to achieve its bigger goals. But with the criticism he has taken here and elsewhere, Johnson deserves credit for what he has done well and for grinding out a win that has a chance to redefine the season.
What was the best part of the game?: Herbert Jones came out of halftime playing with the extra edge you want from a home-state guy in the year’s biggest grudge match. The freshman from Hale County played 17 minutes in the second half before fouling out, scoring nine of his 11 points and grabbing five of his seven rebounds. He also led the team with four assists and four steals, and was back to taking charges like he did during his breakout in non-conference play. He deserves a big share of the credit for holding Auburn under 40 percent shooting.
Who was the star?: Petty’s eight treys would have tied the school record had he not broken it earlier this year by making 10 against Alabama A&M. But his 27 points against a Top 25 team on a night when his team was desperate to replace Sexton’s scoring were far more impressive. And unlike early in the year when he needed long passes to free him up for successful 3-pointers, against the Tigers he was creating baskets off the dribble and from short handoffs that left him a narrow space to make the shot.
What were the biggest concerns?: Sexton’s absence showed up most glaringly in the turnover column and at the foul line. Bama had 12 turnovers in the first half and 19 for the game, leading to 21 points for the Tigers. And after a perfect night at the foul line in Baton Rouge, the Tide struggled to close out Auburn at the line, going just 14-for-22. Ingram made up for a bad shooting night from the floor by going 10-for-13 at the line, but had five turnovers and needed to go get the ball on more late possessions instead of letting the ball end up with shaky foul shooters. And Giddens is on the verge of falling to third string once Hall is fully healthy. Scoring the same number of points as a teammate who played eight minutes a week after having a pin surgically inserted in his wrist ought to motivate Giddens to step up his effort, but few things have. Considering he transferred out of Ohio State after one year of similarly modest success, this one can’t be pinned on coaching.
What’s next?: Bama tries to prove it can deal with increased expectations when it hosts Mississippi State on Saturday. The 7:30 p.m. tipoff will once again be on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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