Alabama 77, Kansas State 74: Kira Lewis drags Tide across finish line

On a night where Alabama looked lethargic and confused for long stretches, carried the Crimson Tide home with 26 points and seven rebounds to turn back 77-74 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge at Coleman Coliseum.

What did we learn today?: The Crimson Tide has improved enough to where it can get itself out of trouble against inferior teams, but not enough to avoid trouble in the first place. Bama’s four-game winning streak is the longest in 13 months. But ever since beginning the run with a near-flawless win over Auburn, at least one element of the Tide’s game has collapsed each time out. Against Missouri it was sending the Tigers to the line 31 times (and watching them make each shot.) At Vanderbilt it was a season-high 25 turnovers. And Saturday it was getting mauled on the glass by the Big 12’s worst rebounding team. K-State held a 45-33 edge on the glass thanks to an incredible 22 offensive rebounds. The Wildcats used their size to reach over would be Tide rebounders yes, but more importantly they were flat-out hungrier for the ball. Between that and their propensity to send Bama to the line before conceding any kind of clean look at the basket, the Cats had an incredible 31 more field goal attempts than their hosts. Lewis and held their own with seven rebounds apiece, but the frontcourt fared very poorly. Kansas State’s Makol Mawien finished with 12 rebounds, which was more than , , and combined.

What was the best part of the game?: When went from two fouls to four on a questionable call plus a technical with 16:14 left, it certainly didn’t feel like a great moment was in store. But over the next four minutes, Shackelford went from freshman contributor to Mr. Dependable just when Bama need someone to replace its leading scorer. During that sequence, Shackelford had six points, two rebounds and an assist as a four-point lead ballooned to 16. That working margin was what the Tide lived off of the rest of the game, as it got down to as little as one point but never disappeared entirely.

Who was the star?: Much was made of Lewis wanting to show off after playing limited minutes last summer for the US National U-19 team, which was coached by Kansas State’s Bruce Weber. That seemed overblown, as shown by their enthusiastic postgame hug, but Lewis was certainly locked in, using his speed to flash towards the rim and make the Wildcats choose between giving up a quick two points or burning yet another foul. Lewis was 8-for-12 from the floor, 8-for-8 at the line and also added three assists, three blocks and two steals in 36 minutes.

What were the biggest concerns?: K-State had lots of size and mediocre shooting stats from long range, so it was understandable that Bama would pack in its defense. But the Wildcats made them pay with open 3-pointers, and it took the Crimson Tide too long to adjust. Kansas State was 5-for-11 from deep in the first 20 minutes and hit 10 3-pointers for the game. Alabama meanwhile had long stretches where it didn’t even get to attempt a trey, with only two 3-point shots (both misses) over the final 13 minutes of the first half. For the game Alabama was just 8-for-22 from 3-point range, another misfire in the game plan despite getting the win.

What’s next: After three consecutive games against teams a combined seven games under .500, Bama draws LSU, which is undefeated in the SEC and on the verge of a Top 25 ranking. Tipoff from Baton Rouge is at 6 p.m. Central Wednesday on ESPN2.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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