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Rhode Island 93, Alabama 79: First road trip leads to jarring dead end

Alabama dug itself into a 22-point hole in its first road game of the season and never found a way to completely escape, falling 93-79 at Rhode Island.

What did we learn today?: A Nate Oats-type system looks a lot prettier when it is being run by experienced players who are fully committed. The Rams played a freewheeling four-out, one-in style with a heavy emphasis on creating turnovers and cashing them in for easy baskets. If that sounds familiar, it is what Oats ran at Buffalo and what he’s working to establish at Bama. But inexperienced players and those steeped in dysfunctional cultures will revert to bad habits in high-pressure situations. And with senior-laden URI steadily building a double digit lead in the first half, the Crimson Tide got careless with the basketball, started playing for individual matchups on offense instead of moving the ball around effectively, took too many bad shots and let those offensive struggles sap its will to defend. That first-half panic was disappointing, yet predictable from a young team getting its first taste of road basketball.

But what was equally sobering was Rhode Island’s 12-3 run to end the game after Bama had clawed back within five points. The game was within reach with under four minutes left, but veteran players started making bad mistakes as the pressure began building back up. When it became obvious around the two-minute mark that the Rams would pull it out, the Tide’s collective effort shifted into neutral, as though it were another NIT game they were blowing off in the Avery Johnson years. That’s a bad look and it probably won’t go unnoticed during film sessions. Let’s hope it was an aberration brought on by fatigue and nothing more, but the percentage of the fanbase willing to give this roster the benefit of the doubt is already mighty small.

What were the biggest concerns?: Alabama is supposed to be a guard-oriented team, right? Well Friday it played five true guards and four of them did little more than provide ballast for the charter plane. Beetle Bolden, John Petty and Jaden Shackelford each went 2-for-7 from the floor and combined to miss 13 of their 15 3-point attempts. Bolden was brought in as a graduate transfer from West Virginia to provide leadership, but so far he’s only leading in fouls, with 13 in three games. Petty’s team-high eight rebounds were overshadowed by his four turnovers and another scoreless first half. Shackelford had his most restrained shooting night in his young career, which was fortunate because he was badly off the mark much of the night. If he were on a deeper team he could be deadly as a change-of-pace scoring threat. As is he’s being asked to be an offensive cornerstone, and that’s a little too much to ask right now. Meanwhile Jaylen Forbes played six virtually anonymous minutes and has the look of someone who will get garbage time minutes at most come SEC play.

What was the best part of the game?: Herbert Jones and Alex Reese combined for 27 points in Bama’s best frontcourt showing to date, but it was freshman Javian Davis who stole the show after halftime. Scoreless after 20 minutes, he made three of his four shot attempts in the second half and was a perfect 5-for-5 at the line to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds while battling URI’s Cyril Langevine on roughly equal terms. What Davis did in the second half alone was more impressive than his full-game domination of lowly Florida Atlantic.

Who was the star?: An off night for Kira Lewis is something most other college players would kill to experience. He was 8-for-13 from the floor to finish with 21 points, and added five rebounds, four assists and three steals. The sophomore from Meridianville still isn’t a great defender, but he’s winning more of his share of battles now after being a liability last season.

What’s next?: A classic trap game awaits in Tuscaloosa courtesy of a Tuesday visit from Furman. Tipoff with the Paladins will be at 7 p.m. Central and streamed online via SEC Network-Plus.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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