By Chris DePew
March 3, 2018
Alabama ended the regular season with another offensive collapse, shooting under 38 percent from the field and missing a dozen free throws as Texas A&M overcame its own mental miscues to pull out a 68-66 victory in College Station.
What did we learn today?: The freshmen on this year’s team most likely to return each have glaring flaws in their games that must be fixed if they want to be more than SEC also-rans next season, when they almost certainly will be playing to save Avery Johnson’s job. John Petty must overcome the mental block that causes his shot to disappear in hostile gyms, but he also needs to overcome his deficiencies as a ball handler that make him turnover prone and rob him of chances to get easier looks at the basket in the paint. Alex Reese is an underrated scorer who can cause mismatches with his size and shooting ability but he can’t be left on the floor for long stretches when he is such a soft defender and weak rebounder. Galin Smith hasn’t made a free throw since the Minnesota game on November 25 and needs the most weight room work of anyone this offseason after being consistently abused by SEC big men in spot duty. Herbert Jones sat out against the Aggies with a concussion, but he had already hit the freshman wall hard over the past five weeks, taking too many shots that were never destined to fall. Season-to-season improvement of players has been one of Johnson’s weaknesses as a college coach, and he’ll need to do his best job yet with this group. First though he’ll have to convince them not to transfer out of a program that looks like it has missed its window to break through to becoming a regular NCAA tournament team.
What were the biggest concerns?: You’d think a team with a four-game losing streak and on the very edge of the NCAA bubble would come out playing desperate, but at least on offense the Crimson Tide seemed to just go through the motions for the first three-quarters of the game. ESPN color analyst Sean Farnham, who also called the midweek debacle against Florida, positively roasted Alabama, Petty and Braxton Key in particular, for standing around on offense and watching the ball instead of working into position to receive a pass and score. The listless play continued until Reese got knocked out-of-bounds by Tyler Davis well after the whistle. That fired up Bama enough to turn an 11-point deficit into a 53-52 lead with 4:39 to play. But then the turnovers and missed shots started piling up again, and the Aggies built enough of a cushion to withstand a couple of garbage-time 3-pointers. After spending three weeks desperate for sustained effort that never comes, the odds are stacked against a deep run next week in St. Louis to salvage the season.
What was the best part of the game?: This game was there for the taking because Bama got Texas A&M away from its offense for long stretches. The Aggies missed their last 10 3-point attempts of the first half and were just 4-for-21 for the game as the Tide clogged the lane and lured A&M into questionable jump shots instead of continuing to feed the near-unstoppable Tyler Davis. The home team was a Bama-esque 39 percent from the field and 18-for-30 at the line. Even a moderately competent offense would have sealed the road upset.
Who was the star?: Collin Sexton benefited from A&M’s foul-happy ways, scoring 13 of his 23 points at the stripe to go with a career-high seven assists. He has at least two games left to score 43 points and match the freshman scoring record (554) held by James “Hollywood” Robinson.
What’s next?: Surprise! In a rematch that promises to be almost as exciting as organizing a junk drawer, the Aggies and Tide meet again in the 8-9 game at the SEC Tournament. Tipoff on the SEC Network is Thursday at noon.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris