By Chris DePew
Jan. 5, 2019
A pair of overlooked starters had their best games of the season as Tevin Mack and Herbert Jones combined for 32 points in Alabama’s 77-75 home upset of No. 13 Kentucky.
What did we learn today?: How good Bama can be when it truly gets production from everywhere. All five starters finished with at least 10 points (including Dazon Ingram, who scored 11 after displacing John Petty). Jones shook off two months of non-conference misery to produce a gem of a game with 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists and no turnovers or missed shots from the field or free throw line. Kira Lewis struggled to finish shots in his SEC debut but kept grinding away to score a dozen, while Donta Hall scored 11 points and grabbed Kentucky’s last miss just ahead of the buzzer for his 10th rebound and third consecutive double-double. And all four players benefitted from the extra attention UK had to give Mack, who made a career-best six 3-pointers and scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half.
What was the best part of the game?: The Crimson Tide broke from the gate as quickly as any Triple Crown racehorse. Conventional wisdom holds that Bama shouldn’t try and get in track meet with the Wildcats, but Avery Johnson was 0-for-7 against UK using conventional tactics and his team needed a boost of confidence, not to mention a way around a stifling half-court defense. So especially in the first five minutes and at times afterwards, Bama pushed the ball up the court quickly, including a gorgeous full-court pass to Jones for an open dunk. The Tide led just 16-15 at the first media timeout, but the Cats were caught off guard and for once did not have the bench depth to keep up.
Who was the star?: Three years and one day after scoring a career high 27 against Oklahoma State, Mack introduced himself to SEC fans who might not have been familiar with his work as a Texas Longhorn prior to transferring. True he only made one basket in the second half, but he accepted that Kentucky was going to clamp down after halftime, attempting just four shots and otherwise doing a commendable job of swinging the ball around the floor instead of letting it get bogged down. His five boards also helped Bama out-rebound Kentucky 40-32 after falling behind by 10 in that category early on.
What were the biggest concerns?: The Crimson Tide had 17 turnovers, and it only felt like they all came in the game’s final three minutes. After a Hall tip-in gave Alabama a 72-61 lead, its final nine possessions turned into a grease fire while the Cats got within a point with five seconds left and had an open look at what would have been the game-winning basket:
- Shot clock violation
- Hall turnover
- Ingram missed layup as shot clock expired
- Petty layup (on a broken play after nearly turning it over at midcourt)
- Lewis turnover
- Lewis turnover in backcourt
- Ingram makes two free throws
- Ingram turnover trying to dribble out clock, instead of standing still to get fouled
- Petty makes one of two free throws
It was a systemic failure in the closing minutes against a withering full-court press and provided a blueprint for the rest of the SEC on how to shut Bama down. Ingram and Lewis combined for nine turnovers, and both should expect zero breathing room from opposing guards until they prove they can beat pressure.
What’s next?: The conference road opener comes Tuesday night in Baton Rouge. Tipoff with LSU is at 8 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris