Mercy! Tide Loses Basketball Opener

Exciting? Well, because the basketball was in the air with a chance to send the game to overtime, that might be an adjective to describe Alabama's basketball performance in the season-opening game Sunday night. But others—not very flattering – come to mind.

It's nothing new for Alabama basketball to have a disappointing showing, and trying to qualify the most rotten performance could prove a slippery slope. But the Crimson Tide's season-opening game in Coleman Coliseum would be high on the Stinkermeter.

True, Mercer had rebounded from its exhibition loss 10 days ago to the College of Georgia to pound Piedmont College, so perhaps the Crimson Tide of Coach Mark Gottfried should have been prepared for a challenge. Or prepared for something.

Instead, Alabama gave a woeful performance, got out-rebounded by 18, and lost to the Mercer Bears. Ronald Steele, who had a excellent night in his first regular season competition in over a year, missed a last-ditch three-point attempt to send the game to overtime and Mercer took a well-deserved 72-69 decision.

It was the first time Alabama had lost a home season-opener since the 1993-94 season, when Coach David Hobbs' second Alabama team lost to Chattanooga, 67-57. That Tide squad went on to post a 20-10 record, including a 12-4 Southeastern Conference mark that was good enough for second place in the SEC Western Division, and reach the second round of the NCAA playoffs. That team also defeated Mercer, 88-63, one reason that Alabama had a 5-1 record against the Bears.

The 2008-09 Alabama team joins the 1923 Tide squad, which lost to Mercer 28-23 in a Southern Conference Tournament game. All events of that loss aren't known for sure, but that was the last basketball game Charles Bernier ever coached for Bama.

"This sits squarely on my shoulders," Gottfried said, although he also noted that Tide players "played hard, but didn't always execute well." He said there were good shots taken that simply were missed.

Gottfried had no trouble pin-pointing the key statistic in the Bama loss. Mercer had 56 rebounds to 38 for Alabama. The Bears had 24 offensive rebounds. Surprisingly, Mercer had only nine second chance points, but that was five more than Bama had.

When Alonzo Gee made a short jump shot with 34 seconds to play, Alabama had a 69-68 lead. (That shot gave Gee, a pre-season all-star candidate, a total of four points in the game.) Mercer took a time out and with 13 seconds to play in the game, the Bears' star guard, James Florence floated high in the air. Although he had not shot well, Florence had drawn a lot of fouls and his 11-14 free throw shooting had helped him to a total of 23 points. Instead of shooting, though, Florence, slipped the ball to a wide open Calvin Henry, who made the go-ahead layup with 13 seconds to play.

Alabama tried to get a quick run-out to Gee, but freshman JaMychal Green's long pass was intercepted by Florence. He was fouled and made two free throws. Alabama got a last-second three point try by Ron Steele, but it bounced off the rim.

Steele didn't have anything to apologize for, though. Gottfried used terms like "fabulous" and "tremendous" in describing his senior point guard. "We tried to put the game on his shoulders," Gottfried said. Steele was the game's high scorer with 25 points. He hit 7-15 field goals, including 5-11 three-point shots, and 6-7 free throws. The rest of the Tide team was 2-17 on three-point tries. Steele also had three assists and three steals and only three turnovers in 35 minutes of play.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Steele said. "Give them credit. They played great. But this is not something we expected. This is a bad loss.

"We just didn't make enough plays. I'm the oldest guy on the team, so I felt I had an obligation to help us. That last shot is one I have to make.

"There are a lot more games. We have to bounce back. We have to get better."

Gottfried said, "Everyone has to learn from this. Things like this happen. Last year Kentucky lost to Gardner-Webb and ended up in the NCAA Tournament. We have to get better and we will get better. Sometimes you learn more from a game like this."

Gottfried also complimented the play of his freshman low post player, JaMychal Green, who had a double-double—17 points on 7-10 field goals, but a poor 3-9 on free thows—and 12 rebounds. He also had three blocked shots.

Mikhail Torrance came off the bench and had 10 points for Bama.

Mercer got 13 rebounds and five blocked shots from Henry, whose game-winning basket gave him nine points. Daniel Emerson had 18 points and Brian Mills had 10 points off the bench.

Both teams shot poorly. Mercer was 26-66 from the field, 39.4 per cent, including 5-18 on three-point shots, 27.8 per cent, and hit 15-23 free throws, 65.2 per cent. Bama hit 24-66 from the field, 36.4 per cent, including 7-28 three-point shots, 25 per cent, and the Tide connected on 14-21 free throws, 66.7 per cent.

BamaMag Top Stories