By Chris DePew
Nov. 15, 2018
Northeastern scored the first eight points of the game and Alabama never showed any sustained interest in fighting back as the Huskies prevailed 68-52 in the first round of the Charleston Classic.
What did we learn today?: Bama is unlikely to face a Top 25 team until January, and maybe that’s for the best right now. Every year this team has a handful of games where the offense completely malfunctions and fails to break the 60-point barrier. Every year the Crimson Tide comes out flat against good teams from lesser-known leagues. And when those two elements combine, it has made for the most discouraging losses of the Avery Johnson era. Alabama may have been blessed with better athletes and more size, but Northeastern had a veteran squad that knew its identity, executed its offense and made the Tide look lethargic, if not downright foolish. The Huskies shot better than 52 percent from the field and from the 3-point line, made 15 of their 17 free throws, finished with 14 assists and lulled Alabama into playing at the slower pace Northeastern preferred while leading the entire game. It’s important not to overreact, but in the fourth year of Johnson’s reign it becomes increasingly hard to argue that this isn’t his team’s identity.
What were the biggest concerns?: The starting frontcourt might as well have spent the day on a carriage tour. Galin Smith started yet again and finished with two points, which was two more than Donta Hall mustered. Smith is a raw sophomore who takes coaching well and may yet blossom into a plus player, but he was lost at sea against the smaller, perimeter-oriented Huskies. He and Hall have started all three games together, and each time Johnson has had to nix the pairing after a few minutes when it becomes apparent that they don’t function well together. Neither played even half the game against Northeastern.
The true mystery is why Hall was so uninvolved. He barely saw the ball on the low blocks, and his only shot attempt was an off-balance jumper from the foul line during yet another play that took him out of his comfort zone by sticking him in the high post. After scoring 20 and 12 points in the season’s first two games, failing to run the offense through him – especially on a day where Bama was 3-for-19 from 3-point range – is borderline malpractice. And as a senior, some of the burden falls on him to stand up for himself and demand more touches, even if it means getting in teammates’ faces. Frankly this team could use more vocal leadership anyway.
What was the best part of the game?: The reminder that help is on the way. Alabama’s recruiting class, which features three Top 100 players, got a nice shoutout during the broadcast. Juwan Gary, Jaylen Forbes and Jaden Shackleford each have the potential to shine beginning next fall. While the goal for this year remains the NCAA tournament, 2018-19 was always expected to be a transition season from Collin Sexton to the next great recruiting class.
Who was the star?: John Petty not only kept up the scoring pace away from home, but he gutted out a solid performance despite not hitting 3-pointers early. Petty began attacking the rim to get his game jump-started and wound up going 6-for-12 from the field for 17 points. He also added a couple of assists and tied for the team lead with five rebounds. No other Bama player finished in double figures.
What’s next?: Denied a March Madness rematch with No. 16 Virginia Tech, Bama will instead have to get focused for a consolation game against Ball State. Tipoff on ESPNU is at 12:30 Central.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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