Alabama Drops A Heartbreaker to No. 11 Wichita State, 72-67


Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide (5-5) proved that it takes a very special team to knock off a top 15 team in any circumstances. The Tide came within a couple missed opportunities of knocking off No. 11 Wichita State (11-0) in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night.

Alabama held tough down the stretch but couldn’t convert on some key free throws in the second half to seal the deal.

Tuesday night proved the difference between the Crimson Tide and a former final four team: taking advantage of your opponent’s missed opportunities. Something Alabama has proved time and time again that they can’t do down the stretch.

Trevor Releford led the Tide with a 22 points and 6 assists. Releford looked healthy after missing the Charleston Southern game for “precautionary reasons” due to a plaguing hip injury.

Rodney Cooper added 14 key points off the bench and was the only other Tide player to post double figures in scoring. Retin Obasohan and Nick Jacobs finished with 8 points each and Levi Randolph finished with 7 points. Nick Jacobs was also questionable after sustaining an injury to his right shoulder in the Tide’s last game. He was considered day-to-day by the Alabama training staff but was able to provide some valuable playing time in the starting rotation.

Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early led all scorers with 26 points. Early had an extremely efficient game shooting 7-11 from the field and a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line.

The Shockers were able to dominate two aspects of the game all night, rebounding and free throw efficiency. Until a late miss in the waining moments of the game Wichita State was nearly perfect from the charity stripe. They finished an astounding 92.6 percent from the free throw line. The Shockers also out-rebounded the Tide 38-26.

Now granted, it would have been great to get a victory against a top 15 opponent at home, but Alabama held their own the entire game. The Tide had a great shooting night, shooting 43.4 percent from the field. They also were able to out-shoot the Shockers from outside, something that rarely happens for the Tide.

There’s no getting around it, this was a big game that Alabama needed on its resume. This was the second biggest non-conference game in Coleman Coliseum history, but it isn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind though, Alabama is going to have to learn how to win close games. The Tide got lucky tonight considering that their opponent was a top 15 team, but with conference play lurking in the new year, close games are a definite.

The Crimson Tide still have two big non-conference games remaining, including one at home on Saturday. This isn’t based on inside knowledge, weighing RPIs or expert opinion, but I believe Alabama has to win one of these games.

Although the Tide’s relatively tough non-conference schedule is keeping them afloat RPI-wise, it’s hard to believe the selection committee will consider a team with plenty of good non-conference opponents no wins to show for it. Anthony Grant’s team is once again setting itself up for a challenging conference run that provides no wiggle room.

Xavier (8-3) will travel to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide on Saturday night at 6 pm CT. The Musketeers will be playing on a week’s rest after defeating Cincinnati 64-47 on December 14. Keep in mind, Xavier is now a member of the Big East, meaning that the Musketeers will get two shots at schools like Butler, Villanova and Georgetown.

If Alabama can get a win against Xavier it could prove to be much bigger later in the season if the Musketeers can find a way to knock off a couple big-time conference opponents.

‘Tis the season. December can make or break your NCAA Tournament hopes. Let’s hope it’s the former rather than the latter.

Follow Nick on Twitter.