What did we learn today?: The scariest sight for a Bama fan is a big lead against an inferior opponent. John Petty’s 3-pointer put the Tide ahead 65-47 with 8:52 left, but all it took was a couple of careless turnovers, a couple of Commodore baskets, and suddenly Alabama was visibly shaken and its mistakes multiplied in a hurry as visions of similar meltdowns lept to mind. A 13-0 Vandy run had the visitors on the verge of panic, but the depleted Dores couldn’t finish the comeback, even with Bama making just one of its last 10 field goals and turning it over nine times in the second half. This team very likely could make it to 20 regular season wins and a probable NCAA tournament bid just by winning the remaining games where it will be favored, but it’s hard to have confidence Bama can walk that tightrope after another nerve-racking finish.
What was the best part of the game?: After grinding out respectable numbers against the top teams in the conference, Kira Lewis has been scorching in back-to-back games against the dregs of the SEC. In his first trip to Nashville, Lewis made six of his first eight shots from the floor, went 4-for-4 at the foul line and finished with 18 points and four assists. It’s been a nice taste of the dominant form he flashed during non-conference play and a glimpse of what Tide fans can hope to see full time next season.
Who was the star?: Senior Riley Norris, who contrary to rumor was not part of Johnny Dee’s “Rocket 8” team in ’56, was the veteran presence the Crimson Tide needed when everyone else got wobbly legs down the stretch. He sank all of his free throws after getting fouled on a late corner 3 for Bama’s first points in more than 6:30 of playing time, then followed it up with a triple from the top of the key that killed the last of Vandy’s momentum. A terror on the glass all night, Norris finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
What were the biggest concerns?: It’s a good thing Alabama made a season-high 12 3-pointers, because the Tide shot a miserable 34 percent on 2-point attempts, mustered just 18 points in the paint and only attempted 13 free throws until Vanderbilt had to start fouling early and often in the last 90 seconds. Donta Hall had a mostly forgettable night except for his first career 3-point attempt, which kicked straight up off the heel of the rim and improbably drifted in. With back-to-back games ahead against teams fighting to stay on the right side of the bubble, Hall has to shake off his midseason funk.
What’s next?: Having just lost its third game in four tries by identical four-point margins, Mississippi State figures to be playing desperate and angry Tuesday night in Starkville. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 8 p.m. Central.
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