By Chris DePew
Feb. 19, 2019
Alabama twice blew double-digit leads and pushed its season to the brink of catastrophe with a third consecutive loss as Texas A&M completed the season sweep with a 65-56 comeback in College Station.
What did we learn today?: The Crimson Tide has a losing mentality and will fold up in the face of adversity. The effort on the floor was passable at best, only looking better in comparison to the back-to-back thrashings that preceded it. But after taking a 44-32 lead on Herbert Jones’ steal and breakaway dunk with 12:28 left, Bama got just five more field goals the rest of the way, and only one from someone besides Tevin Mack. Meanwhile Savion Flagg scored nine of his 18 points in a little over four minutes to tie the game at 45-45. John Petty missed a 3-pointer on the next possession, the Aggies made a deep ball on the other end and the Tide never led again, as Texas A&M sank six of its last eight field goals. Other than Mack, everyone else either looked tentative down the stretch or disappeared altogether.
What were the biggest concerns?: Avery Johnson didn’t stick to his convictions. In the closest thing to a fire and brimstone speech he could muster, Johnson promised significant changes after the weekend debacle versus Florida. He responded by switching Jones for Petty in the starting five. He shortened the playing rotation, leaving Alex Reese and Galin Smith out of the game. And at least in the first half, he was quick to bench any player making a significant mistake. Donta Hall picks up his first foul? Welcome to the bench. Kira Lewis gets a layup blocked on an unwise drive to the rim? Welcome to the bench. Dazon Ingram has an egregious turnover in the final 30 seconds? Welcome to the bench. It sounds like a cheesy gimmick, but gimmicks can shake things up on a team gone stale and Bama did lead 30-24 at the break.
But for a motivational tactic like that to work, the coach has to commit to it the whole way. And when Ingram made two glaring errors on Alabama’s first possession of the second half – a near-throwaway pass on the floor and then a botched inbounds play – Johnson ruefully shook his head but didn’t bring out the hook. Mack fouled a 3-point shooter less than a minute later and remained in the game. Then a gaggle of three players in crimson somehow let a rebound slip out of bounds with no Aggies on that side of the court. Mistake begat mistake and the urgency from the first half was soon gone as Bama settled into an all-too-familiar rut.
In more mundane news, Alabama barely shot better than 40 percent from the floor, didn’t get to the line enough and had eight of its 13 turnovers in the second half. But none of that is getting fixed until and unless the team’s psychology gets fixed. And there’s a growing sense that Johnson is out of buttons to push with this year’s team and possibly the program as a whole.
What was the best part of the game?: Riley Norris connected on a trio of first-half 3-pointers, grabbed five rebounds and hit the floor (and in one case the front row seats) with abandon going after loose balls. He deserves a better end to his college career than his teammates and coaches are providing.
Who was the star?: Befitting an ex-Longhorn, Mack didn’t let the Aggies pull away without a fight. After starting off 2-for-6 from the floor, the junior forward made his last four shots to end up with 14 points, the only Tide player in double figures.
What’s next?: Vanderbilt has only five chances left to avoid the first winless SEC season since Georgia Tech in 1954, but it may never have a better opportunity than Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. Tipoff on ESPNU is at 5 p.m.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris