Texas A&M went just 3-for-19 from 3-point range, but that third make was a TJ Starks bank shot at the final buzzer to pull the Aggies back to the .500 mark with an 81-80 upset at Alabama.
What did we learn today?: Inexplicably, this team full of mismatched pieces and underdeveloped talent still believes it can take off plays, or even entire halves, against inferior teams, especially when Bama’s shots are falling early. The Crimson Tide was 7-for-15 from 3-point range and shooting 50 percent overall in the first 20 minutes and pushed the lead to 44-32 a minute into the second half. But the Aggies kept grinding away, getting 30 free throw attempts and building up a 48-30 edge for points in the paint, including untold numbers of open dunks and layups after players lost their man on the baseline.
Donta Hall had yet another double-double (14 points, 16 rebounds) but it’s hard to feel great about it when A&M forward Josh Nebo came off the bench to go 10-for-12 from the floor to finish with 21 points, add seven rebounds and match Hall with four blocks. By the time Bama’s attention was back on the game at hand, the Tide was playing tentative, making mistakes and stinking it up from the foul line (18-for-29) at crunch time.
What were the biggest concerns?: Some mistakes stand out more at the end of a one-point game, such as Kira Lewis’ free throw miss on Alabama’s last possession or a costly Dazon Ingram turnover on an inbounds play in the final minute. But sometimes the culprit can be the opportunities lost earlier in the game when the lead feels comfortable and a coach is content to downshift into neutral with inferior players while the starters get extended rest.
Avery Johnson Jr. has declined from a serviceable back-of-the-rotation guard the past two seasons to a deep liability. Entering Saturday he had by far the lowest efficiency rating (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks minus missed shots and turnovers) of any SEC player with at least 100 minutes played. Yet Johnson got nine more minutes of floor time Saturday, with just two points, an assist and two fouls to show for it.
What doesn’t get measured is what Lewis or Ingram might have done with those lost possessions. Likewise Daniel Giddens and Galin Smith have been interchangeably subpar, and against the Aggies it was Giddens’ turn. His six minutes yielded an offensive rebound, a foul and two missed free throws. Avery Johnson continues to use a 10-man rotation with a team that barely has eight SEC-caliber players and only Hall and Lewis consistently performing at an above-average level.
What was the best part of the game?: Part of what makes this loss so frustrating was how well Alabama’s offense was moving and meshing in the first half. The Tide had 11 of its 13 assists in the period and shot 50 percent from the floor, before declining to 42 percent by the end of the game. Lewis in particular had a couple of pretty cuts to the basket for the game’s first four points and finished with 14 on 5-for-9 shooting after a trio of cold shooting games.
Who was the star?: John Petty set season highs with six 3-pointers and 22 points, and at times was Bama’s only effective option down the stretch. It would have been nice to see him get some additional looks in the closing minutes, but it was still an encouraging performance, although right now any encouragement from this team feels like fools gold to a fan base that just got burned again.
What’s next?: The best remaining chance at a second win in January may be Wednesday night at Missouri. Tipoff on the SEC Network is scheduled for 8 p.m. Central.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris