By Chris DePew
Feb. 3, 2018
What did we learn today?: If you want Bama to play at its best, put a number in front of the opponent’s name. It’s natural for inexperienced teams to bring more energy to showcase games, but the Tide is taking it ridiculous extremes. Alabama has now won four consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time – while going just 3-4 against unranked teams over that same stretch. Add in a win against Rhode Island (which entered the polls weeks after its loss in Tuscaloosa) and respectable, high-scoring losses away from home against Minnesota and Arizona, and it becomes clear that this team has a split personality. Those unfocused losses against middling teams will wind up dragging Alabama down to a lower NCAA seed than its talent level would indicate, but the way so many players thrive in the spotlight gives hope that it can do more than just fill out a bracket line if it makes it back to March Madness.
What was the best part of the game?: With just under 13 minutes left in a tie game, Bama subbed in Avery Johnson Jr., Herbert Jones and Daniel Giddens in hopes of stealing just a bit of extra rest for some starters before the next media timeout. That motley trio not only held its own but outscored the Gators 7-2 in the span of 2:40 to give Alabama the lead for good. Jones scored all six of his points after that substitution while Johnson hit a 3-pointer to break the game open and finished with 10 on 4-for-8 shooting (and was the only Tide player without a turnover). That sequence propelled Bama to only its second road win of the year.
Who was the star?: Collin Sexton not only shouldered the scoring load with 17 points but recorded season highs with six assists and eight rebounds, and did it while breaking down savvy Florida senior Chris Chiozza. The Crimson Tide needed someone to assert himself on offense after a shaky start and it was heartening to see Sexton answer the call. He is the player with the most ability to get the team going again when momentum has turned against it, and his leadership will determine how far into March this team can go.
What were the biggest concerns?: Bama shot better than 50 percent all day and was tenacious on defense, but couldn’t grab the lead until the second half because of a bumper crop of turnovers. The Tide coughed up the ball 14 times in the first half – more than 40 percent of its possessions – and 19 for the game. Mercifully the cold-shooting Gators got just 18 points off turnovers, but the lack of scoring chances limited Bama to 27 points in the opening half.
John Petty’s nightmare showing on the road bottomed out with his first scoreless contest. In five games in opposing SEC arenas, the freshman from Huntsville is 5-for-32 from the floor, including 1-for-9 from 2-point range. He has multiple flaws in his game that will have to be fixed if he ever wants to be an all-conference player, much less a NBA draft pick. Petty must improve his ball handling, learn to drive to the rim, cut down on careless turnovers and learn how to create space for his shot when teams smother him on the perimeter.
What’s next?: The Tide plays its first rematch of the season Tuesday in Starkville against fast-improving Mississippi State. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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