Alabama basketball running out of chances after unraveling in SEC Tournament

Bennett Durando
The Tuscaloosa News

TAMPA — There is a disconnect. 

Jahvon Quinerly tried to put his finger on it as he worked through his answer. Alabama basketball, once again, was a victim of its own defensive inconsistency Thursday night in a premature exit from the SEC Tournament. The next time Alabama plays, it'll be an elimination game. What needs to be prioritized between now and the NCAA Tournament?

"I just think we kind of need a mindset shift in practice, walk-throughs," Quinerly said. "Because we guard (the scout team) for three days, and then the game comes and we don't guard them the way we guarded them in practice and the shoot-arounds. So it just needs to be a mindset shift. But it has to be some type of carryover into the game."

Frustration seeped through the cracks again for the Crimson Tide at Amalie Arena, where the team's SEC Tournament stay was short thanks to that undisciplined second-half defense. Alabama lost 82-76 to No. 11 seed Vanderbilt after giving 28 points in the first half.

The Crimson Tide had a 15-point lead approaching 14 minutes left. Vanderbilt's only self-creating scorer, Scotty Pippen Jr., couldn't buy a bucket. And still, the lead slipped rather swiftly. 

Pippen was involved in the next 10 unanswered points. He assisted two Myles Stute 3-pointers, both of which were open looks on Quinerly's aforementioned defensive breakdowns. Then Pippen added a layup, then a pair of foul shots. He scored a game-high 26 points on only five made shots. Alabama put him at the stripe 21 times.

"We just kept fouling Pippen," a frustrated Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "I mean, he's a good player. He picks up fouls a lot. We didn't do a very good job of guarding him without fouling."

Mar 10, 2022; Tampa, FL, USA;Vanderbilt Commodores forward Jordan Wright (4) and Alabama Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford (5) go after the loose ball during the second half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Crimson Tide lost composure. Free throws uncharacteristically clanked out. (Alabama was 20-for-34.) Eighteen turnovers on offense turned into more fouls on defense. Vanderbilt took a quick-paced game that typically favors Alabama and turned it on its head.

CHIPPY GAME:Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats didn't know assistant coach chirped with Scotty Pippen Jr.

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The Commodores took the lead with 4:26 left, fittingly at the foul line. Rodney Chatman and Stute hit two more clutch 3-pointers, the second of which put Vanderbilt ahead 76-71 with 1:20 left. Alabama had let itself down again with deplorable defense, which will make the Crimson Tide vulnerable against sharp-shooting NCAA Tournament underdogs.

Oats' squad survived past the first weekend last season on the back of its defense. This year, disorderly guarding will make Alabama a popular upset alert pick on brackets.

"We've proven we can play with anybody in the country," Oats said. "We've also proven we can lose to anybody on our schedule."

It comes back to practice. Oats said Alabama didn't do a sufficient enough job behind the scenes focusing.

"Being more locked into the scouting report and not giving shooters open threes off actions that we've gone over multiple times in practice," Jaden Shackelford said. "Really just locking in and getting stops. I feel like there's got to be an intensity about us going into the NCAA Tournament."

The SEC Tournament exposed which team in the league has the highest ceiling and the lowest floor. All it took was one half of bad defense.

Shackelford was quick to point out: "We've got another shot at this."

The next shot is the last shot.