We all knew that eventually a loss was coming. We saw improvement, especially on offense, against Iona and Temple, but Alabama was always going to be the best possible team to face this early in the year. They had dominated Maryland (never easy) and stifled a possible NCAA team in Wichita State. Coming in, it was almost the exact opposite we were used to. We were the high scoring team, while Alabama was playing in your jersey defense.
In the end, they out-Purdue'ed us. They attacked relentlessly on defense and caused turnovers that led to a number of dunks in transition. We were able to recover from an early 12-point deficit and even led at a couple of points, but in the end we were not able to take advantage of the opportunities given us.
The key stretch came after Terone Johnson tied it with a three at 33-33 with 12 minutes left. It would be the last time we were tied on the night. They answered with Tony Mitchell three, and from there it was death by paper cuts. We tried to answer, but Anthony Johnson missed a three that led to a layup at the other end. AJ got fouled on the next possession and made one of two, but we gave up a tip-in offensive rebound. We turned the ball over and gave up another offensive putback, this time by JaMychal Green. Suddenly the 33-33 tie was a 42-34 lead for the Crimson Tide. All this happened in less than three minutes.
It was here that we had a chance to stay with them, but a few poor shots and their defense changed the timbre of the game in their favor. We played them pretty evenly the rest of the way, but this big 9-1 swing over three minutes changed everything. you could argue that going the first five minutes without scoring hurt, but we battled back to erase that and take the lead while they had their own drought during a 12-0 run by us. This was the run we never answered.
We got beat by the better team tonight. We needed to shoot the basketball better and we did not. Alabama's athleticism and defensive pressure took us completely out of our game in the final 12 minutes. They pressed us until we wore down, then turned it up even more, causing uncharacteristic turnovers in the backcourt as Lewis Jackson got called for a 10 second call and Kelsey Barlow threw the ball away when no one would help on a double team 60 feet from the basket. Fortunately, this is anything but a bad loss. Instead, it is a missed opportunity to grab what would have been a very good win.
Positives From The Alabama Game:
It was a learning experience - The 11-0 start did not help things, but we showed a lot of heart in fighting back. Even down double digits for most of the final eight minutes we kept fighting to the point that we were only down 60-49 with the ball with two minutes left. As bad as things were, there was just enough time to get a desperate rally going if we score then and there. We faced a superior team and stayed with them, learning things along the way. If applied, this is the kind of thing that can benefit us later.
Defense - We really did play a lot better defensively, especially when you take away a lot of their dunks and layups that came in transition and on the offensive glass. Trevor Releford played an amazing game, but we forced a lot of tough shots and forced them to rely on offense from their defense. In the half court we were much better than we have been in any game this year, and that is encouraging since it came against the best team we played.
Negatives From the Alabama Game:
Free Throws - Hitting just 11 of 19 for 57.9% from the line is flat out unacceptable, especially when Robbie Hummel found his stroke and was 6 of 6 again. Jacob Lawson has got to become a better shooter because he has the ability to get to the line on putbacks and such. He is 2 of 8 for the year, and really his 0 of 1 tonight was an 0 of 2 since he missed the front end of a one and one when we needed both FT's. This needs to get better. No excuses.
Shot selection - I can understand not driving. LewJack would drive, but their size in the paint would allow them to influence shots into misses. The same was true when AJ or Barlow drove. We relied on the three too much and it finally went cold at 5 of 21. That's not to say we didn't get some good looks. Ryne Smith and D.J. Byrd in particular had a few rattle in and out at key times. Still, we rushed a lot of shots tonight. Part of that is credit to their defense, but part of it was bad shot selection.
Post play - Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius, and Jacob Lawson have got to learn to finish at the basket, and they are going to have to learn as the season progresses. I am not suggesting we runt he offense through them, but we have to make it a threat and attack the basket more. Chooch has flashes where he looks like he is getting it with a big rebound or a putback. Lawson's athleticism makes him unique from the other two. Carroll is hustling on defense and scrapping for rebounds, but his offensive skills are the most limited of the three. They combined for six points and six rebounds, but we really need one of them to give us that by himself. I have seen flashes from all three of them (even Carroll, who is taking a beating in the Open Thread). It needs to become more than flashes, however.
Honestly, there is a lot here that I can attribute to Alabama simply being the better team. We gave them a game for about 28 minutes, but they did exactly what they needed to do in the final 12 minutes to close the game out. They did this because they were the better, more athletic team.
The good news is that I don't think we'll see another team like this for quite awhile, probably until we go to Ohio State. Now we get a pair of easy wins at home to keep working on a few things before our next test stretch against Miami at home (another big, athletic team) and at a ranked Xavier team. Barring a disaster we will be 6-1 going into those two games, and a win at Xavier would show improvement. As it is, beating a good Temple and Iona team might still be enough to sneak us into the rankings tomorrow.
So take heart his evening. This is a setback, but it is still early and we will learn from this. I view the entire Puerto Rico trip as a win because we were able to bank a pair of wins over NCAA caliber teams. In the long run, that is the more important thing, especially when the only losses Iona and Temple had down there were to us.