Alabama basketball pushed the No. 3 ranked Tennessee Vols to the brink of a major Crimson Tide upset, before losing 71-68 in Knoxville.
Alabama basketball measured itself against one of the best teams in college basketball Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide did not have quite enough to pull off an upset. Tennessee is a very good team – certainly Sweet 16 good, probably Elite Eight good, maybe even better.
Avery Johnson’s Alabama basketball team battled hard in Knoxville. At times in the first half, the game was on the verge of becoming a blowout. But the Tide kept fighting. The Vols’ inside force, Grant Williams scored 12 first-half points pushing his team’s lead to 12 points at the break. The Vols had a decided advantage in first-half points in the paint, 26 points to the Tide’s 16 points. Alabama hung on largely by nine, second-chance, first-half points.
Tennessee is not a team willing to be over-dependent on perimeter shooting. Avery Johnson made a halftime adjustment, frequently rotating to double Williams when he got the ball low. The change did not shut down Williams but it helped, and it made the Vols rely more on other players.
John Petty exploded in the second-half, playing the best game in his Crimson Tide career. Petty played well in the first half with 10 points off the bench. Starting the second half, he was on fire, turning the Tide deficit into a lead. Alabama basketball took a one-point lead at 16:31, from a Herbert Jones layup off of a Petty assist.
During much of the second half, it was clear Avery was calling half-courts sets to free up Petty. Numerous times, the Tide’s spacing, motion and passing achieved that purpose.
John Petty scored 20 second-half points. Petty, along with solid play by Donta Hall, was almost enough for the upset. Almost, but not quite.
Tennessee is too good to be beaten by a couple of players. Petty and Hall needed more help. In fairness, everyone in Crimson fought on defense. They also fought on offense, but without enough success. Players other than Petty and Hall did combine for 22 points. The five other scorers for the Tide were led by Kira Lewis with 12 points. Ten players scored for the Tide. Three of them scored 58 points. The other seven contributed just 10.
Not only were the other Tiders not scoring much, they also took ill-advised shots. Avery Johnson appears to believe any open three is a good shot. When the Tide needed key second-half baskets, Alex Reese, Kira Lewis, Herbert Jones and Riley Norris missed threes. Shooting threes throughout the game, Petty was 6-for-10; Kira Lewis was 3-for-6 – the rest of the Tide; Herbert Jones, Tevin Mack, Dazon Ingram, Alex Reese and Riley Norris were 1-for-10.
Even more crippling for the Tide was second-half free throw shooting. Alabama basketball could have closed out a win in the second-half. Instead, it was 4-for-13 at the foul line.
There was plenty of good Saturday afternoon in Knoxville. John Petty played like a superstar. Donta Hall played well and nailed two late, clutch free throws. The team fought hard throughout. Avery made good halftime adjustments. It just wasn’t enough.