Despite the injuries, especially to Herb Jones, and despite the turnovers that led to 27 Arkansas points, the Alabama basketball team was in the position it wanted with a 3-point lead and just over four minutes to play.
But Alabama watched as Arkansas controlled the last four minutes in an 82-78 win at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday.
“You’ve got to win close games,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “You’ve got to win that game at home. It was hard playing short-handed (with defensive standout Jones and guard Beetle Bolden both out) but that’s not an excuse. We just weren’t good enough to win.”
The Crimson Tide made no field goals in the final four minutes until a meaningless Jaden Shackelford 3-pointer at the buzzer. UA made 6 of 10 free throws but Arkansas was in the process of scoring 16 points in the same stretch.
“I thought our defense disappeared in the second half,” Oats said. “You’ve got to get stops in that situation and we didn’t get any.”
While Oats refused to use the absence of Jones, who had surgery for a wrist fracture on Saturday morning, as an alibi, he did point out Alabama struggled defensively against Arkansas guards Mason Jones (30 points) and Jimmy Whitt Jr. (26 points).
“It’s huge,” Oats said. “Herb is sort of that lockdown corner that just takes that (offensive) guy out of the game. Or you put him on a lesser guy and then he is there to clean up everyone else’s mistakes.”
Alabama got off to its best start of the SEC season, jumping out to a 12-0 lead that caused Arkansas to call two timeouts in the first three minutes of play. The Crimson Tide cooled off after that, partly due to costly turnovers — Arkansas eventually scored 27 points off 17 Alabama turnovers. The Razorbacks came back to take a brief lead although Alabama answered and led 39-36 at the half.
The two teams then swapped runs in the second half before Arkansas took command down the stretch.
Shackelford led Alabama with 28 points, playing over 38 minutes.
“We knew we were going to have to play more minutes but we are conditioned,” Shackelford said. “(Herb’s our glue guy but we’ve all got to be better when he is not there.”
Alex Reese added 14 points and seven rebounds for UA before fouling out in the final minute.
Alabama (12-9, 4-4 SEC) will have a quick turnaround, hosting Tennessee on Tuesday night.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt