Stuart McNair

Alabama rallies aren’t enough against No. 23 Florida

Turnovers and poor free throw shooting cost Alabama

Too many turnovers plus too many missed free throws equals the first Southeastern Conference  loss of the 2016-17 season for the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team, who fell 80-67 to Florida at home Tuesday night. Even when Bama built a six-point second half lead, Florida outscored the Tide 24-8 over the final 7:13 to clinch the win.

Bama missed 16 of 32 foul shots, and Florida scored 27 points off 18 Tide turnovers.

Said Alabama Coach Avery Johnson: “It was a roller coaster of a game. We didn’t get off to a good start. We came out in the second half on a really nice run, then they finished the game strong.

“We didn’t take care of the ball. Great teachable moments for our team. They’re a good team. They made shots. They’re a veteran team. You’ve got to give them credit. They’re ranked in the top 25 for a reason.

“We look like a team that hasn’t played together long. Their pressure bothered us, but we’ll  learn from it. Obviously, free throws are free, and hopefully we’ll step up and start making them. We’ll continue to work on that in practice.”

Added Florida Coach Mike White: “We got our hands on a lot of balls, and we did just enough defensively in a zone that we don’t play a lot of to get a big road victory in this league. Those are hard to come by.”

Freshman Braxton Key scored a career high 24 points to lead Alabama in scoring. He is the first Tider to break the 20-point mark this season.  Keith Stone led Florida with 14 points.

“Braxton was terrific. He kept on fighting, and he had his mid-range game going,” Johnson said.

Things started out nicely enough as Alabama went up by four on a pair of Donta Hall dunks.  No. 23 Florida (13-3, 4-0 SEC) then ran off a 13-2 run.  Braxton Key had a trey and a slam to get the Tide back to within 13-11 at the 14:25 mark, prompting a Gators time out.

  The Gators then  began to pull away, and at the 11:18 media time out, the visitors were up by seven points.  Florida built its first half lead to as many as 18  points at the 5:11  mark, prompting a Johnson time out. At the half, the Gators held a 38-31 advantage.

 That first 20 minutes featured a six-minute field goal drought by a cold-shooting Tide.  Key and Ar’Mond Davis (10 points)  keyed a 14-2 Tide run or things could have been worse. Key already had 15 points at the break. Not helping: a dreadful 3-for-11 performance by Bama at the charity stripe.

When the second half  began, the Tide (9-6, 2-1) continued battling back, and at the 15:50 time out the Gators lead was down to 44-42 on an Avery Johnson Jr. steal and layup. Game on?

Yes, for most of the half.

Back-to-back Hall dunks put Bama up a point with 14:30 left. The Coleman Coliseum crowd got loud. The woes at the foul line continued for Bama, yet the Crimson Tide still led until Stone’s corner 3-ball put the Gators up by two with 6:43 left.

 Hall (12 points, eight boards) fouled out with 5:21 left. That didn’t help, as the 6-9 sophomore was having one of his better games on both ends. Foul trouble limited Hall to 15 minutes.

The aforementioned turnover bug bit Bama badly in the final five minutes, and cost the Tide a realistic shot at keeping the game close enough to mount a last-minute comeback.  With 1:29 left, Canyon (son of Rick) Barry buried a back-breaking 3 to put the Gators up 75-65, in effect quashing the Tide’s hopes. Barry scored 13 including a pair of “granny style” free like his dad shot them. Kasey Hill also scored 13.

Up next for Alabama is a road game at LSU. Tip time on the SEC Network is set for 2:30 p.m. CST.

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