TUSCALOOSA — Tevin Mack just shook his head as he walked to Alabama’s locker room, still unable to understand how it all fell apart.
Alabama led by as many as 12 early in the second half, but a late surge by Texas A&M coupled with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from T.J. Starks sealed the Crimson Tide’s second straight SEC loss, 81-80, to Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon.
Alabama junior John Petty led the way with a season-high 22 points, and senior center Donta Hall posted his seventh double-double of the season, but neither were able to stop Starks’ off-balance 3-pointer as his left his hands just before the final buzzer sounded inside Coleman Coliseum.
“I love our guys, they’re down right now, we’re all disappointed,” fourth-year Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “But we’ve got to get back to work to see how we can improve.”
Here are three takeaways from today’s loss:
1. Petty found his groove
Entering his second year at Alabama, Petty was expected to provide some more consistency, especially from beyond the arc.
But, outside of a strong showing in the opener, that hasn’t really been the case throughout much of the first half of the season, costing him his place in the starting lineup before the beginning of SEC play earlier this month.
Petty responded Saturday, though, finding a rhythm from 3-point range shooting a season-high six treys on 11 attempts as the Crimson Tide shot 10-of-27 from beyond the arc.
Petty’s 3-point prowess was key to Alabama’s early success, including hitting 3-of-4 over a span of 4½ minutes to stretch the Tide’s lead from 13-12 to 32-21 with 6:19 left in the first half.
“Preparation started first, we shoot the ball every single day, working on our game every single day, me and (Mack),” Petty said. “I think I played good because preparation started during the week, earlier before the game, getting shots up and getting my rhythm back.”
Petty finished with a season-high 22-point effort, and even helped out defensively with a key block to force a turnover with 15 seconds left, allowing Dazon Ingram to go to the line for a pair of made free throws to give Alabama a 79-76 lead with 10 seconds left.
Petty was also guarding Stark on the final play after a failed switch defensively, but credited the Aggies sophomore guard with just making a great shot.
“I felt like I contested it well, I mean it was a one-legged runner fading away from the goal 3-pointer off the glass,” Petty said. “I don’t think there’s really too much more you can do about that. He made it. All I can say is good shot. There really isn’t anything you can do about it.”
2. Second-half swoon
Alabama opened the second half with a free throw by Herbert Jones for a 44-32 lead 27 seconds in, but then missed its next eight field goal tries and began just 2-of-15 from the floor over the first eight minutes.
That lapse on offense translated to its defense as Texas A&M cut that lead to just three at 52-49 on a layup Jay Jay Chandler with 13:02 remaining.
From there, Aggies reserve forward Josh Nebo scored three times amid five straight made field goals for Texas A&M to pull even at 65-65 with 6:56 left on a layup by Starks.
“This was a tale of two halves for us. We didn’t do a very good job defensively in the second half,” Johnson said. “Give them credit for having just an exceptional second half.”
A pair of baskets by Mack helped Alabama pull back ahead 73-71 with 4:37 remaining, but A&M guards Savion Flagg and Wendell Mitchell scored in the matter of a minute to give the Aggies its first lead of the game at 75-73 with 2:37 on the clock.
“I just feel like they made a run down the stretch and time ended up being on their side down the stretch,” Mack said, “and we didn’t have enough time for us to come back and make our run as they were making theirs.”
Alabama then missed four of its last five field goal attempts over the final three minutes of action, with a putback from Hall with 2:05 left as the only made bucket, as the Tide finished 5-of-6 from the free throw line – the lone miss by freshman guard Kira Lewis with three seconds left to open the door for Stark’s final 3-pointer.
3. Block party
With one big swat of Texas A&M’s T.J. Starks, Alabama senior center Donta Hall recorded the 200th block of his career, becoming just the seventh player in Crimson Tide history to accomplish the feat.
Hall finished the game with four blocks to go along with 14 points and 16 rebounds, including 12 on the defensive end, but Alabama’s inability to block out around the perimeter allowed Texas A&M to crash the lane much of the second half, including 13 of Nebo’s team-high 21 points coming down the stretch.
“Part of the reason he had to block so many shots is because we couldn’t keep anybody in front of us,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to do a better job of keeping guys in front of us, and defending the dribble and penetration. Obviously Donta is our last line of defense, but we’re going to need some other guys consistently to get in there.”
Hall played a team-leading 33 minutes as the Tide’s only serviceable post threat on either end of the court. Sophomore forward Alex Reese, who plays more of a stretch-four, added seven points but pulled in just one rebound in seven minutes of action, while junior post Daniel Giddens was scoreless in six minutes on the court.