By Chris DePew
Jan. 26, 2019
In an entertaining, hard-fought game between NCAA bubble teams, host Baylor surged ahead in the closing minutes and downed Alabama 73-68 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
What did we learn today?: Skill and tenacity can outrank size when it comes to rebounding. The Bears didn’t start a player taller than 6-foot-5 but became just the second team all year to edge out Bama on the glass. And the real killer was offensive rebounds, with Baylor getting 16 rebounds off its 37 missed field goals, an incredible 43.2 percent. That gave the Bears 10 extra shots from the field and an 18-9 edge in second-chance points. In a game where neither team led by more than six points, that was a killer. Donta Hall tied Baylor’s Mario Kegler with a game-high seven rebounds, but only other Crimson Tide player (Kira Lewis with five) had more than three boards.
What were the biggest concerns?: John Petty followed up two great outings with his worst game of the season, going 1-for-7 from the floor with a rebound and two assists. There have been games this year where Petty couldn’t score, but he was at least contributing on defense or with rebounding or playmaking. But in Waco he reverted to the worst habits of last season, including trying to make all his shots from behind the arc despite getting his only two points on a drive to the rim. It’s the latest example of a frustrating trend in the Avery Johnson era. A player (or sometimes the entire team) will string together a week or two worth of games that have you convinced they’ve made a breakthrough and are capable of playing at a higher level. Then they don’t merely just revert to the mean but instead bottom out so violently it makes you feel foolish for daring to put any faith in them.
What was the best part of the game?: Especially in the first half, the Tide gave a clinic in picking apart a zone defense with cuts and interior passes. Alabama’s first 26 points all came from inside the paint and virtually all of those came from no further than three feet from the rim. After the Bears packed the defense in tighter, Tevin Mack in particular made hay with mid-range jumpers from just inside the foul line and finished with 15 points.
Who was the star?: Riley Norris made all six of his shots from the floor, including four 3-pointers on a day where his teammates were a combined 1-for-13 behind the arc. His team-high 16 points were the most he had scored since hanging 17 on LSU in February 2017. Also of note, Lewis outdueled Bears point guard (and one-time Alabama enrollee) Jared Butler, with Lewis producing 15 points and six assists.
What’s next?: Back to Coleman Coliseum, back to league play and back to another pressure cooker against a tough opponent. No. 22 Mississippi State comes in Tuesday night for a 7:30 p.m. scheduled tip on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris