It’s not often Alabama’s basketball team plays in the Magic City. It did Monday night, but the Crimson Tide of Coach Avery Johnson didn’t have quite enough magic of its own to upset No. 28 Oregon, which used a strong spurt early in the second half to beat Alabama, 72-68 at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center’s Legacy Arena.
“Hard-fought game tonight,” Johnson said. “Tough, hard-nosed game. We had a slow start to the second half, but again, we came back. It’s a game of cycles. I’m proud of our guys. I told my guys, ‘If you’d have told me June 1… that we’d be 7-3 going into Christmas break, I’ll take it.’
“I expected us to win tonight. We were playing good defense. Because we don’t have a 30-point scorer, we have to do it as a team offensively. We did a much better job of that in the first half; not so much in the second half.”
Sophomore guard Justin Coleman led Bama with 24 points, and he was joined in double digits by Arthur Edwards and Riley Norris, who each had 12. Oregon was led by Dillon Brooks, who scored 23.
Said Coleman: “It wasn’t just me. It was my teammates having confidence in me. Watching film, and …. with Coach Johnson having confidence in me, it’s easy to go out and play my game.”
Johnson said, “He’s maturing, and he’s learning how to quarterback the team more.” Coleman had a game-high six assists.
“We had a hard time containing him, and his quickness really hurt us,” said Ducks Coach Dana Altman.
Monday was not Coleman’s first big game at the BJCC. He had several while playing in the state finals for Wenonah High School. “I won three state championships here in high school. It reminded me of high school a lot. I had a lot of family here,” he said.
Norris said. “Coach has confidence in us. Our players have confidence in me. I just played free. There’s nothing to lose.
“It’s a tough loss. I hate losing. We came out slow second half. Oregon’s a really good team… and they capitalized on our turnovers. We had a few blown assignments.”
Johnson said, “We just couldn’t get in gear early in the second half. Give (Oregon) credit. They went into the locker room, and made adjustments.”
Johnson was happy with the attendance, saying, “I’m trying not to say ‘NBA Playoffs,’ so it felt like the Final Four.” The announced crowd was 14,508.
The Tide (7-3) led until four minutes in when the Ducks (10-2) took their first lead on a trey by Brooks to put the visitors up 7-5. With 14:24 left in the half, Coleman spun through the lane for an “and one” to tie matters at eight. Less than two minutes later, the diminutive Coleman struck again, this time on an inbounds pass where he scored, drew the foul, and converted for a three-point Tide lead. Next trip, Coleman drilled a trey, and the mostly crimson crowd was on its feet. At the 11:55 media time out, Bama led 14-8 on the strength of Coleman’s personal 9-0 run. He then drilled another three. At the 5:32 mark, Oregon called time out after Brandon Austin jammed for a 32-20 Tide lead.
By intermission Alabama led 38-26 after a half featuring two ties and two lead changes.
The final 20 minutes saw the Ducks cut the margin down to five in the first four minutes. At the 14:45 mark, Oregon took the lead on a trey by Tyler Dorsey. The Ducks then got a Jordan Bell dunk for a 47-44 advantage that induced a Johnson time out with 13:53 remaining. Oregon was in the midst of a 21-6 run.
The Ducks stretched that lead to six with 12:10 left, but Coleman hit back-to-back bombs to tie the game at 60 with less than six minutes remaining.
With 2:41 left, Johnson took time out down 65-63. Norris threw in a runner to tie it. Elgin Cook’s three put Oregon ahead again. Coleman missed a trey. Norris got a steal, but Retin Obasohahn missed a three.
The final minute saw Norris block a shot before Johnson called time with 40.2 seconds left. Norris missed a 3-pointer with under 20 seconds left, and Bama had to foul. Dorsey calmly nailed both ends of the one-and-one, and Edwards hit an NBA 3-ball with seven seconds left. Dorsey again hit a pair from the line, Edwards missed a long three, and the Ducks hung on for the win, their first on the road this season.
Each team shot 20 free throws, but Oregon made 16 to Bama’s 13. Oregon posted a 35-30 rebounding advantage. The visitors had 10 more points in the pant (32-22), and a resounding 22-7 advantage in points off turnovers.
Alabama will return to action Dec. 29 when it hosts instate foe Jacksonville State at 7 p.m. CST in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.