Alabama blew two double-digit leads to a 11-14 (4-9) Aggies squad in an ugly, boring game that set the sport back at least 20 years to fall to 15-11 (6-7) and likely out of the NCAA tournament picture for now.
We finally replaced Herb with JP in the starting lineup as I posted we should have done at least two weeks ago. Of course, we didn't even stick with that lineup till the first media timeout, promptly pulling Donta Hall for Giddens (who apparently has re-earned his spot as Donta's backup over Galen for now) as soon as he picked up his first foul.
The game started slow, but I actually thought we had decent ball movement early on offense against their zone. The defensive effort was much better than we've seen over the last week or so, at least in the first half. Riley came off the bench and gave us a spark with three 3s to build an 11 point lead while playing solid defense.
The end of the first half was symbolic of everything wrong with this team. Up by 9 with 42 seconds, for some reason our NBA coach doesn't do what every single NBA team would do in a similar situation and go 2 for 1. Instead, Dazon commits an unforced turnover by traveling at the top of the key, and aTm nails a 3 to cut the lead to 6 at halftime.
We promptly pissed away the rest of the lead to start the second half, but we made some adjustments. Tevin Mack got hot in the high-post game with Donta that's been successful against the zone, and JP scored a few baskets posting up their guards. Herb got a steal and a fast break dunk and the lead was 12 with about 12 minutes left.
What happened next is utterly inexcusable. The Aggies are not a good team. They aren't going anywhere postseason barring a miracle run in Nashville, but you have to give them credit for playing hard and never giving up. That's something we don't do, and we clearly don't learn from our mistakes. In a must win game, against a team that already erased a 20 point deficit against us in less time, we get lazy on defense, sloppy with the ball, and allow them to not only come back but win going away. For some reason we waited until the entire lead was gone in a 13-1 run before calling a timeout to try to re-group.
The end of the game was almost as maddening as the end of the first half. Donta cut their lead to 4 with a little over a minute remaining with an "and one" on a dunk. Of course, he missed the free throw, like we always do. Now, I can understand not putting them on the free throw line down 4 with over a minute remaining. Assuming we could get a stop, we get the ball back with around 40 seconds left, we could score and make it a one possession game, but then we would have to foul on their next possession. The problem is, for once, somehow we weren't in the penalty yet. Therefore, we should have fouled immediately so that our next foul would put them on the line. Instead, we did the absolute worst thing, and fouled with about 5 seconds left on the shot-clock, giving them a fresh 30. So now, one would think we HAVE to foul immediately, but we didn't even do that. Instead we let them hit a wide open 3 with about 5 seconds left on the shot clock, and with only 30 seconds left in the game, it was over at that point. It's like we weren't even trying to win the game.
T-Mack was our leading scorer with 14 points and the only one in double figures. Kira only scored 5 points and did not shoot well, but he had 4 assists and remarkably zero turnovers. Riley had 9 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes. JP had 7 points and 6 boards. Donta had 6 points and 5 boards but was getting pushed around a lot defensively in the second half. We were out-rebounded again, what was a strength earlier in the season has become a glaring weakness over the last couple of weeks.
The good news is we have plenty of opportunities in our next 5 games to right the ship and play our way back to the NCAA tournament. The bad news is I have zero confidence that we will do so. In fact, I would not be shocked if Vandy gets their only SEC win in our building Saturday. I hope they prove me wrong.
Now, let's address the elephant in the room, and I will try to do so in factual based manner. I normally prefer to wait until the end of the season to discuss the head coach's job status. One of my biggest gripes about our fanbase is that we tend to overreact to a single game or even a stretch of games. Every season has its highs and lows, and I still hope, even if I don't truly believe, that there are more good times ahead this season. However, it is clear that Coach Johnson has lost the fanbase, and it's to the point that it will have a negative impact on recruiting.
Regardless, he will not be fired after this year. I don't care if we don't win another game with an average margin of defeat of 20+ points, it simply won't happen. The sooner you accept this fact, the better. The Board of Trustees is not going to pony up $9 Million for a buyout, and even if they did the national spin would be "Bama fires coach just one season removed from first NCAA tournament win in 12 years." It would make it difficult to hire the right replacement. I'm not going to argue here whether we should or shouldn't fire Avery at the end of the year, because it's simply not going to happen.
We've been pointing to the 2019 recruiting class as being critical for some time. We've already signed a very solid class, but it is imperative that we land Trendon Watford. It's one thing to lose elite in-state talent like Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe to blue-bloods like Kentucky, but you absolutely cannot lose a guy like Trendon Watford to the likes of LSU or Memphis. I was hoping Colin Sexton's success would give the Watfords confidence in Avery, but according to the scuttle-butt I hear around Birmingham, Trendon really likes Alabama but has his doubts about CAJ.
I hope the rumors that CAJ may be looking to leave at the end of the year for the NBA are true. It would make a lot of sense for all involved. AJ is graduating, and while I could be wrong I've always got the vibe that Cassandra isn't happy living in Tuscaloosa. The Pelicans are going to be a dumpster fire without A.D. and most don't expect their current head coach to survive. There's also been talk of NOLA possibly hiring Avery to a front office position as they just fired their GM. It would make sense for the Pelicans to hire Avery in some capacity as he is very popular in NOLA and it might save them just a little bit of good will in that community. I'm sure Avery would love to move back home with his family. Meanwhile, our job is infinitely more attractive than when he took it.
Before we get out the pitch-forks, let's not forget all the good things Avery has done here. He has recruited at a high level, he got us back to the tournament and won a game there, he's worked tirelessly to promote the program, and we've pulled off quite a few exciting upset wins. Unfortunately, we collapse at the end of every regular season, he hasn't been able to consistently motivate college players, we have a handful of inexplicable blow-out losses every year, and his substitution patterns and clock management issues make me want to bang my head against a brick wall. A mutual parting of the ways is in the best interest of everyone involved. I would wish him success in New Orleans (Or Cleveland if those rumors turn out to have legs) and thank him for all he accomplished here. Meanwhile, we will have a talented returning roster along with the promised facility upgrades and a highly competitive compensation package to offer a proven successful head coach. I have some names in mind, but now is not the time for that.
Up next, the Vanderbilt Commodores return to Tuscaloosa for a 5 pm tip-off Saturday evening looking for their first conference win. I will be there supporting the players and the program, and I hope you will join me. They need us now more than ever. The game will be televised on ESPNU.