COLLEGE STATION, T.X. – After Wednesday’s thriller from Coleman Coliseum, where Alabama erased a 17-point-deficit to beat Auburn in overtime—clinching the SEC regular season title—the Crimson Tide trailed to college station to take on the 24th ranked Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday morning.
In a game that doesn’t have a ton of significance for Bama, the team got off to yet another slow start with missed open looks and sloppy turnovers. The strength of Buzz Williams’s Aggies squad is their effort defensively and it showed early.
After an early timeout from Coach Oats, the team began to get running and not allow A&M to set their defense, as they are far weaker in transition than the Tide.
However, when the home team was able to slow Bama down, the team continuously turned the ball over early on.
Coach Nate Oats talked earlier this week about playing their best basketball at this time, but early on that was not the case as the Aggies got out to an early double digit lead.
Oats spoke after the game on what he believed the answer is to the trend of slow starts for Bama, and what happened to them today.
“I don’t think we were aggressive enough on offense. We’re turning the ball over too much early on. If I had an exact answer, I’d try to fix it. I’m not sure,” Oats said.
It was the type of game that top teams get on the road, getting the Aggies’ best effort, but the Tide made it really hard for themselves early on, starting 4/23 from the field and 1/16 from three in the early stages of the game.
The mixing of looks and half court trapping by the Aggies’ defense was giving the Crimson Tide so many issues, as it was the lowest scoring and most inefficient 1st half of the season for them.
Despite all of these issues for the Tide, the team still found themselves trailing by 10 at the half, as the Tide trailed 32-22 after the first 20.
The second half started with an emphasis on getting stops and getting in transition, which closed the gap all the way down to two in the first 10 minutes of the half.
The offense finally finding success was mostly due to the work by Brandon Miller and Jahvon Quinerly in getting to the rim, and the length on defense from the Tide also was altering A&M heavily, making everything difficult for them.
The Tide rode this momentum all the way to taking a late three point lead with under 3 minutes remaining. However, Freshman star Brandon Miller picked up his 5th foul at the two minute mark, which turned the game completely back in Texas A&M’s favor.
Still, the Tide found themselves down 59-61 with under a minute remaining, but were unable to even get a touch on their end of the floor because of a late mental-error turnover by Sears—which made it a two possession game and the Tide could not overcome it.
In the end, Bama ended their regular season with a 67-61 loss. This result probably didn’t surprise many Crimson Tide fans, especially after the way they played in the first half, but it still felt like one that was winnable late.
The team played yet another strong second half, but once Miller ran out of fouls, A&M sophomore guard Wade Taylor IV took the game over and finished off the Tide en route to a game-high 28 point performance.
Buzz Williams’s team deserves a lot of credit for their effort today, and it may have earned a potential 5 seed for the Aggies in the NCAA Tournament.
For the Tide, with postseason play starting next week, they are going to have to find ways to get off to better starts and shoot the ball with more efficiency from now on.
“We’ll go back and regroup. We got the #1 seed. We’re going to have to play a lot better in Nashville. We expected A&M’s best shot, and we fouled them way too much. They only missed one free throw and went 27/28,” Coach Oats said.
The bright side is that games like these continue to make this young Alabama squad more and more battle tested.
“It’s another tough game. That’s four in a row that we’ve had to come down to the wire… A&M made us fight hard for this one, which is what we expected. We just didn’t quite have enough,” Oats said.
There is no question that this team has the talent for a final four run, but all of these tough games in late season conference play will only benefit this team when things get tough in the SEC and NCAA Tournament.
A one seed may be where Alabama sits eight days from now on selection Sunday, but as Coach Oats continued to relay throughout the week—it does not matter unless his team is playing their best basketball right now.