Florida 104, Alabama 98: Tide lets upset bid slip away in double OT

Alabama barely ever trailed in regulation but couldn’t hold its poise at crunch time, allowing host to rally for an eventual 104-98 comeback in double overtime.

What did we learn today?: Closing strong is the last big psychological hurdle for this program to clear. When the lead got up to 46-25 late in the first half, it almost seemed like the Crimson Tide glanced down from the tightrope and realized just how far off the ground it had gotten. Sure enough the Gators scored the last seven points of the half, including their first made 3-pointer at the buzzer. For a long while Bama was able to answer the rallies in kind, going ahead 80-72 with two minutes to play and still leading by six with 43 seconds left. But Florida dialed up the defensive intensity that had been missing at tipoff and the young Tide wilted under its own basket. The Gators scored first in the opening overtime and never trailed again.

What were the biggest concerns?: If you are hitting just 28 percent from the field in any game, you shouldn’t be your team’s leading shooter and most certainly shouldn’t have almost twice as many attempts as your next-closest teammates. Seldom have 17 points from felt so bitter, as the sophomore from Merdianville was a dreadful 7-for-25 from the floor. Seven of those misses came at the rim, where his layup attempts either got blocked or altered or where he just wound up psyching himself out of makeable baskets. The Crimson Tide shot 40.8 percent from the field, but that leaps up to 47 percent when excluding Lewis.

What was the best part of the game?: The first half was the blueprint for how this machine can operate when all the parts are in place. The Gators were a preseason top 10 pick but haven’t quite lived up to the sum of their parts. And when they were lethargic to open the game, Bama inflicted maximum pain, building up a 21-point lead not only with hot outside shooting but crisp interior passes and intensity that led them to dive after loose balls with abandon. That emotional high didn’t and couldn’t last. But it isn’t hard to imagine the Tide running it back with that kind of intensity but with more than a dozen games of experience … and with additional frontcourt depth … and with the lightning-quick in the mix. There’s hope for the future and a foundation built on more than just a once-in-a-generation player killing time before the NBA.

Who was the star?: had eight of his 19 points after regulation expired, including a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in the first overtime to extend the game another five minutes. He also had seven rebounds and went from a seven-turnover game against Richmond to coughing it up just once in Gainesville – and Alabama as a team only had 12 turnovers.

What’s next?: Mississippi State begins the home conference schedule on Wednesday. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 6 p.m. Central.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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