Penn 81, Alabama 80: Perils in the paint show up right from the start

Kira Lewis scored a career-high 30 points but it was his two missed free throws with two seconds left that doomed Alabama in an 81-80 season-opening home loss to Penn.

What did we learn today?: Forty minutes into the new season, and paint play is already at a crisis level. Everyone knew that injuries had left Bama dangerously thin inside, but Nate Oats is going to have to plug some holes fast if he wants to have a successful first season in Tuscaloosa. With Alex Reese nursing a sore hip, Herbert Jones slid into the starting frontcourt, but hyperextended his elbow in the first half and did not return. That left Galin Smith and Javian Davis to play 27 combined minutes of entirely ineffective basketball, which mostly consisted of them getting abused by Penn star A.J. Brodeur.

That was disappointing, but not unexpected. What was shocking was seeing the Crimson Tide unable to make a simple layup for long stretches of time. Alabama attempted 26 layups and made only 13, but in the first half it was 3-for-11 on what is supposed to be the simplest shot in the game. With no reason to respect the inside game, the Quakers were free to clamp down on the perimeter, and Bama missed 21 of its last 25 3-point attempts after a hot start.

What were the biggest concerns?: A team with no more room for injury trouble came out of its season opener in fairly rough shape. Jones only lasted 10 minutes and will have to undergo a MRI after a hard landing on his elbow. Reese was just 1-for-6 from the floor and looked like he couldn’t get into his preferred shooting motion. Beetle Bolden played 26 minutes off the bench, but still hasn’t fully recovered from a hand injury. And freshman Jaylen Forbes quietly tied Lewis for the team lead in rebounds (8) but appeared to tweak his leg before coming out in the second half. Already an undersized, undermanned team, Bama is in danger of getting beat up and worn down over the course of a full season.

What was the best part of the game?: With Bama desperate for stops in order to whittle down a nine-point lead, Reese flashed some tenacity in the closing minutes, even while feeling physically subpar. He began cutting off the lane for Brodeur to deny easy baskets, grabbed a couple of rebounds, came up with four steals, broke away on the Tide’s only dunk and was perfect at the line to gut out six points. He’ll never be a conventional post player, but with Davis playing like a raw freshman and Smith frankly not talented enough to keep up on either end of the court, Bama has to make the most out of what Reese can offer.

Who was the star?: After 38 breakneck minutes, Lewis didn’t have enough spring in his legs to coax a free throw home at crunch time. But the indelible image from this game will be his anguish after the final horn, with assistant Antoine Pettway having to half-drag, half-carry Lewis from the court because he was too distraught and too spent to move on his own. He took that loss personally, and that kind of passion will get noticed by teammates as much as his career highs in points and rebounds. Make no mistake, this is his team now.

What’s next?: A week off to recover and regroup before Florida Atlantic comes to town Monday night for a 7 p.m. Central tipoff that will again be streamed online by SEC Network-Plus.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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