Avery Johnson didn’t take the easy road after the Alabama basketball team fell short against Tennessee on Saturday.
“We didn’t come up for a moral victory,” Johnson said. “We came here to win. This isn’t like last year when we were the fourth-youngest team in the country. We have an experienced team. I’m proud of how we played. Coming in, I felt good about it. I thought we were going to win.”
Instead, it was Tennessee that hung on for the 71-68 victory. This wasn’t the sort of loss that wrecks a season, battling a top 5 team to the final possession on its home floor. But it could have been the sort of win that could make a team’s season and Alabama had chances to get that sort of win.
It didn’t even get a shot up. The traveling call on John Petty that ended the final Crimson Tide possession was close. Violations of that kind aren’t always called on endgame situations. But a close look at replay after the game shows that Petty didn’t receive the ball cleanly and moved both feet. It was close enough, one of a series of near-misses that kept an upset from happening.
During a prolific second-half offensive run, Alabama missed 8 of 9 free throws. UA finished the game shooting 44.4 percent from the line. Had it matched Tennessee’s sound 75 percent foul shooting, the Crimson Tide might have extended its lead before the final three minutes.
There were other moments that could have gone differently as well. Two shots were blocked in the final minutes — one by Alabama’s Donta Hall (who played at a very high level) wound up in the hands of Tennessee’s Grant Williams for an easy and important putback. A minute earlier, Williams made an athletic defensive play, running to the corner and stretching to full extension to block Petty’s 3-point attempt.
In the postgame, Petty said a pump fake would have been effective (it would have resulted in Williams landing in the third row and given Petty a clear lane to the hoop) but it didn’t happen. On at least two other occasions in the second half, an Alabama player mired in a deep shooting slump took perimeter jumpers that missed the rim by a combined five feet.
In any tight 40-minute contest, every possession matters. Alabama needed more a couple of more possessions with two points and the line instead of zero, a couple of first-half defensive stands where UT’s Jordan Bone didn’t get into the paint quite so easily.
Ultimately this loss isn’t going to hang like an albatross around Alabama’s neck, not in the way that a flat performance against Northeastern did, certainly not in the way that a home loss to a Texas A&M team that has staked a powerful claim to being the worst in the SEC will sting.
Alabama still has chances, although it’s been an exhausting run of 10 years or more — a stretch that started well before Johnson’s arrival in Tuscaloosa — with the Crimson Tide being not quite good enough to make the NCAA Tournament or just slipping into the field. A comfortable February, the kind some SEC teams will have, would be a relief.
“We’re trying to write a book here,” Johnson said. “This was just one chapter. We’re trying to write a book.”
That’s fair enough but Alabama fans are ready for more happy endings and less “Paradise Lost” along the way.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.