It is said about football that the most important time of the game is the first few minutes of the second half. In basketball, it is the final few minutes of the first.
So often we see teams play quality basketball only to come undone in the waning moments of the opening stanza, and then never recover. And so it was with the Red Raiders as they fell 76-64 to the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
For all but the final two minutes of the first half, Tech went toe-to-toe with the tide. The Red Raiders led 20-18 with 9:45 to play in the opening half, and with 1:39 remaining trailed by only five points. But Tech lost its poise and was gashed in the final 1:38.
First, Trevor Releford, who had been torching the Tech zone all night, knocked down yet another three-spot. The Red Raiders responded with Randy Onwausor, hardly a proven shooter, taking and missing an ill-advised three-pointer of his own. Jaye Crockett bailed the freshman out by cleaning the offensive glass, but then another freshman, Alex Foster, missed another jumper.
With :47 left, Onwausor fouled the wrong guy—Releford--who knocked down both free throws to put Bama up by 10 points. Robert Turner then committed a turnover, the Red Raiders failed to get back on defense, and Rodney Cooper slammed one home to make the score 40-28 at the break. Essentially, Tech's goose was cooked in those 98 seconds.
There were a few factors in play here that sabotaged Red Raider hopes for a big road win over a top-half SEC team.
First was the decision to stick heavily with the zone defense when Releford was toasting it like a slice of pumpernickel. One understands the logic—Releford is a great penetrator, and the Tech coaching staff, realizing that backup point guard is currently the team's greatest weakness, wanted to protect Robert Turner from foul difficulty. But if a player is going to destroy you anyway, it would seem wise to try another approach.
Second, given the undoubted importance of the final moments of the first half, one wonders why freshmen such as Onwausor and Foster, good though the latter has been, were on the court. There are times to play such players; late in the half was not among them.
And finally, the Crimson Tide were simply in one of those zones, and it wasn't all because Tech played poor defense. Many of Releford's threes were deep beyond the zone, and you can't extend the zone indefinitely without distorting the defensive spacing and undermining defensive integrity. For the night, Bama shot 55 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three-point range, and 82 percent from the free throw line. Some nights you just run into a buzz-saw. This was one of them.
But the evening wasn't a total loss for Tech. The Red Raiders could easily have collapsed in front of their first hostile crowd of the season and lost by 30 points. Instead, they scrapped and clawed to the final whistle and kept the game theoretically within reach. At times Tech's half-court sets were a thing of beauty, with give-and-goes from the wing executed to perfection. The Red Raiders also showed signs of being a good defensive team as they forced Bama into 17 turnovers.
Ultimately, however, this team is not yet good enough to beat a quality opponent on the road when they play even one and a half minutes of poor basketball. Especially going into the halftime break.
Loss of Poise Dooms Red Raiders
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