Alabama missed 14 of its first 15 field goal attempts and never fully recovered its offensive footing, falling 70-64 at UCF in the season’s first true road game.
What did we learn Thursday?: This just isn’t a good matchup for the Crimson Tide. The Knights play a slow-paced, grinding style with lockdown defense that feels like a two-hour tension headache. For a second straight year UCF limited Bama to under 65 points and took one of its top guards out of the game. Last December it was Collin Sexton failing to make a basket from the field. This time it was John Petty symbolizing the coldest night in Orlando since the new Frozen ride opened down the road at Epcot. Petty was 2-for-10 from the field and missed his all of his 3-point attempts before coaxing home a window dressing trey in the final seconds to finish with five points and three turnovers. Alabama shot just 37.9 percent from the field overall and was only 16-for-29 on attempted layups, dunks and putback shots. Settling for too many jump shots also meant not enough chances at the foul line, where the Knights carved out a 23-9 scoring advantage.
What were the biggest concerns?: Never has paring down on turnovers by a third felt more hollow. Three nights after coughing the ball up 21 times against Murray State, the Tide had “only” 14 turnovers at UCF, which still meant that one out of every five possessions was cut short. Many of the turnovers were of the careless variety that come from a lack of focus. And that same lack of focus cost Bama in the second half on defense. After Knights big man Tacko Fall went out with his fourth foul, the Tide switched to a 2-3 zone, only to fall asleep on back-to-back possessions and give up a pair of 3-pointers to B.J. Taylor. That gave UCF critical breathing room in what had been a two-point game and the Knights led the rest of the way.
What was the best part of the game?: After scoring just 25 points in a miserable first half, Bama got a nice boost out of the locker room from Alex Reese. The sophomore from Pelham scored nine of the first 11 points of the half for the Tide to give his team its first lead of the night. While 39 points in the second half doesn’t sound impressive, it’s a credible showing against a Top 20 defense nationally, and it shows a resiliency that hasn’t always been evident in previous years when shots aren’t falling. Alabama’s 14 assists on 25 made baskets also is a positive sign for the future.
Who was the star?: Reese and Kira Lewis each had 14 points, but Lewis was the more efficient shooter, going 6-for-11 from the floor. Donta Hall struggled through foul trouble and made only half of his 10 shots (low for him), but his 11 points and nine rebounds were certainly a welcome sign at the end of an erratic first month.
What’s next?: Another day, another preseason conference favorite. Sun Belt power Georgia State invades Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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