By Scott McDonald
Special to Tidesports.com
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The Alabama men’s basketball team needed a big finish down the stretch heading into the SEC Tournament. But it was the big front court of Texas A&M that got in the way Saturday night at Reed Arena.
The Crimson Tide overcame several hurdles and almost tied the game at the final buzzer, but the 3-point shot was blocked at the buzzer, and the Aggies walked away with the 56-53 win.
Alabama squandered a decent first-half lead. They got steamrolled by Texas A&M’s free-throw shooting, and foul trouble took key players off the floor in the final minutes.
“It was a tough game for us,” second-year Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “It starts offensively in what hurt us. It wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
Alabama (16-12, 9-7 in SEC) built an early 13-5 lead in the first half and kept the Aggies ice cold on the floor. But the Tide shot itself in the foot time and time again for a chance to pull ahead even more.
“We were up 13-5 and had four, five, six, seven chances and came up empty, whether it was a turnover or a missed layup,” Johnson said.
Texas A&M (15-12, 7-9) got its offense in gear late in the first half and went into the locker room with a 21-19 halftime lead. Both teams played a rather sloppy game offensively the first 20 minutes. The Tide led most of the first half until the Aggies tied the game at 17-17 at the 2:01 mark.
In that frigid first half for both teams, Alabama shot 23.3 percent from the field while the Aggies slightly better at 31.8 percent.
The Aggies came out playing half-court pressure defense in the second half and slowly built a 15-point lead at 40-25.
Alabama went on a 20-4 run to close the lead to 49-45 to set up a furious finish.
Avery Johnson Jr. missed a wide-open 3-point shot that would’ve cut the lead to one, but A&M’s Robert Williams grabbed the rebound and was fouled immediately by Alabama’s Dazon Ingram, who fouled out on the play.
Williams sank both free throws for two of his game-high 17 points. Williams made 7 of 10 from the line. Later, Alabama’s Riley Norris, fouled out.
Alabama cut the lead to 56-53 and got the ball back with 17 seconds remaining. The Tide missed two 3-pointers and got the ball back, still, with 1.3 seconds remaining. Alabama’s Tonny Trocha-Morelos blocked a potential game winner at the buzzer for the victory.
Alabama will take a rest day on Sunday before finishing down the stretch with must-win games against Ole Miss and at Tennessee.
“We need to get our energy back,” Johnson said. “We have to become a better team at home and we need to be more balanced. We’ve got some pretty quality road wins in the SEC, but we need to win at home.”