When Alabama started the 2015-16 season, not many had high expectations for the Crimson Tide basketball team under new Coach Avery Johnson. It didn’t help when Bama lost freshman sensation Dazon Ingram to injury in the seventh game of the season.
In recent weeks there has been surprisingly good play, and now the only surprises will be if Avery Johnson is not the Southeastern Conference coach of the year – and maybe more than that – and if Alabama – picked 13th in the 14-team league in preseason -- can’t finish the season with a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Crimson Tide became the only team in the SEC to defeat Florida in Gainesville when Bama took a 61-55 win over the Gators Saturday.
The win snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Gators and also marks the first time the Tide has won in Gainesville since Feb. 25, 1995 (10 straight losses).
Alabama is now 15-9 overall and 6-6 in SEC games, while the Gators fell to 16-9, including a 7-5 conference record.
The Tide has now won four games in a row and five of its last six, including two SEC road games.
It wasn’t easy, in part because of foul problems. Retin Obasohan, who finished as Alabama’s leading scorer, had not had a great game, but was starting to heat up when he drew his fifth foul and was out of the game with 5:35 to play and Bama leading by only four points, 48-44. And 13 seconds later the Tide lost its second starter when Arthur Edwards fouled out.
But the Alabama defense, which was excellent thoughout the game, held the Gators to 0-6 from the field over the next two minutes. Alabama outscored Florida by 9-4 over the next five minutes and had a 57-49 lead with 39 seconds to play. Key free throws by Justin Coleman were instrumental in sealing the win.
Obasohan was one of four Alabama players to reach double-figures with a game-high 15 points to go along with team highs of seven rebounds and two assists. Junior Jimmie Taylor had a big game as he finished with 11, including a couple of thunderous dunks late in the game, to go along with five blocked shots. Sophomore Justin Coleman and junior Shannon Hale each added 10 points off the bench.
Coleman ended the first half with a buzzer-beating three-pointer as Alabama trailed by four at halftime, 27-23. Both teams shot just 30 percent in the opening frame (9-of-30). Florida outrebounded the Tide 26-18 with 10 offensive rebounds.
The Tide pulled even with the Gators early in the second half, but would not take a lead until midway through the half. A 7-0 run over 2:16 gave Alabama a six-point lead, up 47-41, with 6:34 to play.
KeVaughn Allen and Dorian Finney-Smith scored 12 points to lead Florida, and Devin Robinson recorded a dozen rebounds.
Alabama finished the game hitting 21 of 50 field goals for 42 per cent, while holding the Gators to 18-63, only 28.6 per cent. The Tide hit 5-12 on three-point shots (41.7 per cent), Florida only 3-21 for 14.3 per cent. Bama made only 13-24 free throws (Coleman 4-4 and Hale 5-6) for 58.3 per cent, but Florida was little better, 16-27 for 59.3 per cent.
Florida dominated Alabama on the boards with a 54-35 advantage in rebounds, but Florida’s second chance points margin was only 11-6. The Gators also had the edge in points off turnovers, 10-5, and fast break points, 6-4, but the Tide outscored Florida 28-20 in the paint.
The game was tied five times and there were 14-lead changes. Alabama took the lead for good at the 8:50 mark of the second half when Obasohan drove for a layup and was fouled, making the three-point play for a 43-41 lead.
Alabama stays on the road to face the conference-leading LSU Tigers on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT on SEC Network. The Tide returns to Coleman Coliseum next Saturday, hosting Mississippi State.