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Texas A&M 74, Alabama 68: Uninspired loss puts another season on brink of ruin

Alabama came out flat, never built a comfortable lead and then watched helplessly in the closing minutes as Texas A&M rallied from a six-point deficit in the final 4:18 to pull off a 74-68 upset at Coleman Coliseum.

What did we learn today?: Chokers choke. That’s a harsh assessment, but if the Crimson Tide wants to rebut it, let it have a winning February for once. Dating back to 2017, Alabama has gone a combined 12-18 in the shortest month of the year, when tournament-worthy teams separate themselves from the pretenders. Blame a lack of depth, blame psychological barriers that now seem to stretch across coaching eras, blame whatever you like. But not only did Bama blow a game against an inferior opponent, it had everyone watching convinced it would happen well before the final buzzer, even as the Tide led most of the way.

The team playing at the third-fastest tempo in America let team No. 334 dictate the pace all evening. It somehow couldn’t take advantage of 14 Aggies turnovers in the first half, and instead coughed it up 11 times itself after intermission. It was too timid to consistently attack the paint, only attempting 15 field goals inside the 3-point line (and none after the final media timeout) and drawing just nine free throw attempts (and missed five). But worst of all, it had too many stretches of lousy defense, allowing A&M to double its usual output from behind the arc with 11 3-pointers.

Last week’s inspired play against a pair of ranked teams is meaningless when Bama refuses to put in the effort needed to take care of so-called lesser teams. It got away with that mentality in sloppy January wins against Vanderbilt and Kansas State. But February is the crucial test in college basketball and this collection of players is flunking it, some of them for a third consecutive year.

What were the biggest concerns?: Down a possession with under two minutes to play, a team needs to be able to lean on its best player. Instead Kira Lewis accelerated Bama’s plunge out of the game and very possibly out of NCAA tournament consideration. First he jacked up a hopeless 3-pointer from around 30 feet midway through the shot clock without even so much as glancing inside the paint. Then after initially closing out on A&M’s Quenton Jackson with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, Lewis inexplicably stepped away, leaving Jackson with just enough room for a buzzer-beating 3 and a 68-62 Aggies lead. Two mental errors less than 40 seconds apart from the reigning SEC player of the week put the game out of reach and the season in jeopardy.

Neither Lewis nor Petty got comfortable shooting the ball, combining to go 10-for-27 from the field on a night where Bama shot just 40.7 percent as a team. And they only had five combined rebounds as Texas A&M outrebounded the Tide 37-29. They didn’t exactly play poorly, but their approach seemed to be almost casual, which is a word that could describe a lot of frustrating upsets the past three seasons.

What was the best part of the game?: The best part didn’t last nearly long enough thanks to foul trouble. But Beetle Bolden wrung the most out of his 17 minutes, with a pair of 3-pointers, two assists, two steals and two charges drawn. He helped stop Wendell Mitchell cold after the Aggies guard had scored 13 of his 18 points midway through the first half. By Nate Oats’ unofficial postgame math, Alabama was plus-17 with Bolden on the floor. After he fouled out with 5:01 left, the Tide was outscored 20-9 the rest of the way.

Who was the star?: Jaden Shackelford continues to be a bedrock while more experienced players around him sputter. The freshman made six 3-pointers, was 8-for-17 from the field and finished with 24 points. He cooled off a bit in the closing minutes, but he was getting good looks and playing within the offense, with the rest of the team not doing nearly enough to step up. He has become the brightest spot in what is close to becoming another lost season.

What’s next?: Alabama must try to salvage its season Saturday in Oxford, Miss., where it traditionally has wilted over the years. Tipoff with Ole Miss is at 7:30 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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