Alabama basketball unable to overcome late-game mistakes against ArkansasBy Ben Stansell | 02/24/2018 9:25pm
Arkansas had a 36-28 rebounding edge against Alabama.
After the first few minutes of play, it looked like déjà vu for Alabama. Just like its previous game against Auburn, Alabama struggled out of the gate.
However, the sluggish start was not the problem for Alabama. The Crimson Tide overcame it and took the lead in the second half. What Alabama did not overcome was a bevy of costly errors, particularly turnovers and a lack of rebounding, down the stretch.
Those insurmountable mistakes led to a 76-73 home loss that drops Alabama’s record to 17-12 overall and 8-8 in SEC play. Alabama is 1-3 since knocking off No. 19 Tennessee.
A hungry, veteran laden Arkansas team took advantage early of an Alabama unit that was “in a fog,” according to head coach Avery Johnson. The Crimson Tide, stumbling through turnovers and poor shooting, finally started to wake up at the end of the first half. Alabama cut a Razorback lead that had swelled to 10 points at one time down to four with a 6-0 run going into the break.
Coming out of the break, it looked like Alabama had finally flipped the on switch.
Braxton Key, who was 1-3 with two points in the first half, stormed out of the locker room on a mission. After missing both of his three point attempts in the first, Key drained a triple to give Alabama’s its first lead of the game only three minutes into the second half. Key maintained his stellar play for the rest of the contest, tying his season high of 16 points and snagging five rebounds.
“I just wanted to win,” Key said. “I didn’t want to let my team down. I feel like I played like trash the first half and just let me team down. I just wanted to win. At the end of the day, that’s really all I ever want to do is win.”
Key was Alabama’s leading scorer on the night, followed by a 15-point effort from Sexton and a 14-point contribution from John Petty.
Leading 41-37 after a 16-2 run dating back to the first half, it appeared as though Alabama might sprint to the finish line. Arkansas had other ideas. The Razorbacks cranked up the pressure, applying a full court defense that lead to even more sloppy play from Alabama.
The lead bounced back and forth until about six minutes remained on the clock, when familiar mistakes once again sabotaged Alabama’s effort. Two critical turnovers and an inability to stop Arkansas from corralling offensive rebounds created a nine-point deficit for the Crimson Tide with three minutes to play.
“We definitely can’t turn the ball over 18 times,” Johnson said. “Another game where we get outrebounded and that’s something that we’re going to have to turn the corner on in both of those areas – taking care of the ball, rebounding.”
Although a determined Collin Sexton and three pointers from Key and Petty almost revived Alabama’s chances, it was not enough to regain the lead before the final buzzer sounded.
The loss to Arkansas marks three straight for Alabama, and Johnson is shouldering the blame for the Crimson Tide’s recent skid.
“I’m very, very disappointed in our overall effort and I’m very disappointed in myself,” Johnson said.
Still looking to bolster its resume in an attempt to qualify for the NCAA tournament, Alabama will host Florida on Tuesday in Coleman Coliseum. It will be the Crimson Tide’s final home game of the season before it faces Texas A&M on the road next Saturday.