Even at the end of overtime when a Norfolk State turnover gave the Alabama basketball team an unexpected and undeserved chance to stay alive, things fell apart, almost as if some higher basketball power had decided that enough of the 2019 season was enough, and let die the quick, though hardly painless, death that it deserved.
With no life left in the season that ended Wednesday night at Coleman Coliseum with Norfolk State’s 80-79 victory, the question becomes broader.
How much life is left in the basketball program?
There was no immediate answer to that from Alabama officials, although head coach Avery Johnson said he had met with UA Athletics Director Greg Byrne on Saturday, the day after the Crimson Tide was eliminated from the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and laid out his plan for the future of UA basketball.
“I love being the coach here at Alabama,” Johnson said. “That’s my plan. I made that crystal clear to Greg in our meeting. And hopefully they (the athletic administrators) feel the same way.”
Byrne was in attendance at Wednesday’s game but did not comment. Johnson currently is under contract through 2023. His current buyout of $8 million drops to $6 million on April 15.
“I know this is (the) microwave era where it is always ‘blow the team up, blow the staff up’ when you don’t get the results you want,” Johnson said. “But when you don’t get the results you want, you just work hard. I feel like we have the right people, we have a nice recruiting class coming in. We’ve just got to get better (and) hopefully we’ll have that opportunity.”
Alabama was a 17-point favorite over Norfolk State (22-13) but saw a recurrence of problems that had plagued the team all year. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over 16 times, blew a double-digit second-half lead (UA was ahead 40-30 with 17:22 to play but gave up a 15-1 run over the next four minutes.)
With the Crimson Tide trailing 67-64, John Petty hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 18.8 seconds remaining. Norfolk State missed two shots in the final six seconds as the game went to overtime.
Alabama trailed 78-73 with just 30 seconds remaining in overtime, but a Herb Jones hoop and free throw cut the lead to three points, 78-76. Norfolk State’s Derrik Jamerson, who led all scorers with 25 points, made two free throws to push the lead back to four points. Jones then hit a 3-pointer to pull Alabama within a point with 6.6 second to go. Norfolk State’s Nic Thomas then fumbled the inbounds pass out of bounds, giving Alabama a last opportunity.
“We have a play we like to run, and get a reverse right underneath the basket and go up and lay it in,” Johnson said. “We just couldn’t get the pass we wanted.”
Instead Riley Norris threw the ball to Petty, who was moving away from the basket. He made a return pass to Norris, who drove the left baseline for an awkward-angle jump shot that missed at the buzzer.
Jones led Alabama (18-16) with a career-high 18 points. Alex Reese had 17 in the first half but played just four minutes in the second half after an eye injury.
The defeat left questions about Alabama’s execution and, more urgently, its effort.
“We saw (them) in warmups and thought that it was going to be sweet, the way they (were) lagging around and stuff,” Norfolk State forward Steven Whitley said.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.