Avery Johnson offered no excuses after Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss in Oxford.
None were necessary. Johnson’s Crimson Tide basketball team had some good stretches against Ole Miss but didn’t defend the 3-point line as aggressively as Johnson would have liked and had long stretches where the basketball seemed to move slowly around the perimeter. That was enough for Ole Miss, a better team at home than people realize, to win comfortably.
Collin Sexton didn’t meet with the press afterward, but he’s not given to making excuses, either. Again, none were necessary. The Crimson Tide’s freshman guard made the effort to play, but there were lingering effects of the abdominal injury that have sidelined him.
To his credit, Sexton didn’t let the injury alter his normal playing style. He approached the game at full-speed — I doubt that Sexton has ever done anything at half-speed in his life. But he didn’t have his full explosive finish at the rim, and it showed in his statistics.
There was another part of it, though. The Ole Miss strategy when Sexton had the ball, or was looking for it, was the same as every other SEC coach. The defensive approach is to play tough — hand checks, hip checks and the occasional German suplex. There’s no reason not to play that way, particularly when games are called in such a way that Sexton, an 80 percent foul shooter — rarely gets a trip to the foul line.
The statistics don’t lie. In Sexton’s last three games — LSU and South Carolina before his two-game absence and Ole Miss afterwards — he has made just 8 of 37 shots from the floor. That includes just 5 of 26 from inside 3-point range. In that same stretch, Sexton has shot a total of nine free throws, and four of those came late in against LSU, when the Tigers were trying to extend the game.
Health is part of it. Even before he missed the two games, Sexton was playing with a nagging groin injury. But it also has something to do with the way games are being played, and officiated. That doesn’t mean biased officiating. To repeat, the referees were not responsible for Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss.
Good teams play physical basketball. Alabama has been missing that component itself this season. No one ever called Jimmie Taylor and Bola Olaniyan a pair of graceful gazelles but no one pushed them around in the paint, either. The further you go, the tougher it gets. Draw a Big 10 team in the NCAA Tournament and you’ll feel like a side of beef in the hands of an angry meat packer.
All Alabama can ask for is consistency — the only issue that sparked Sexton and the Alabama bench to show frustration at Ole Miss was that on three occasions, the Rebels got bailed out on possessions when futile-looking drives to the basket were salvaged by touch-foul whistles. There is no way to know how tightly Saturday’s game against Oklahoma will be officiated but I’d suit up Raekwon Davis to foul Trae Young at least once and find out.
Beyond that, Alabama — and Sexton — has to adapt, while there is still time for adaptation.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-722-0225.