TUSCALOOSA — Not even the return of its former freshman phenom was enough to end Alabama’s home losing streak to Florida.
With Cleveland Cavaliers rookie point guard Collin Sexton among four former Crimson Tide standouts sitting courtside Saturday, an 0-for-7 start from the field proved too much to overcome as the visiting Gators dealt Alabama a 71-53 loss at Coleman Coliseum.
It was Florida’s eighth straight victory in Tuscaloosa, with Alabama's last home win over the Gators coming way back in 2006.
"Give Florida credit, they played extremely well. They took it to us from the start," fourth-year Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. "They threw the first punch and we stumbled basically for the rest of the game. ... They were always in control of the game."
Sexton, in town ahead of Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, was joined in the stands by fellow ex-Tide hoopsters Levi Randolph, Trevor Releford and Retin Obasohan.
Alabama missed its first seven field goal attempts and didn’t make a basket until sophomore forward Galin Smith’s layup with 12:15 left in the first half.
"We did a pretty good job of dictating some tempo offensively," Florida head coach Mike White said of Alabama's slow start. "And they missed some for us as well, that's all part of it, they missed some for us."
Added Johnson: "We had low energy to start the game. Rarely have we gone that long to start a game without scoring."
By that point, Florida already held a 12-2 advantage and led by double figures for much of the first half until a 3-pointer by John Petty cut it to 7 with 1:19 left before a Mike Okauru jumper sent the Gators into halftime up 35-26.
"I didn't do a good enough job getting our team ready to play, I'm not doing a good enough job building confidence, apparently I'm not holding them accountable enough," Johnson said. "I just have to figure out a way to do a better job to get this team to perform better."
Freshman point guard Kira Lewis Jr. led Alabama (15-10, 6-6 SEC) with 14 points while senior center Donta Hall and sophomore wing John Petty added 10 points apiece. Florida (14-11, 6-6 SEC) was led with 21 points from freshman guard Andrew Nembhard, who was 9-for-9 from the field Saturday, to go along with 14 and 13 from Keyontae Johnson and KeVaughn Allen, respectively.
Three takeaways from the Tide's loss:
1. Missing Jones
Herb Jones, the Crimson Tide’s sophomore wing considered one of its top defenders, left the court with an apparent left eye injury a minute and a half into the game Saturday and didn’t return until 3:52 into the second half.
During that time, the Gators shot 56 percent (18-of-32) from the floor, including 4 of 12 from 3-point range, to pace a 44-31 advantage on the road.
"I think it hurt us," Johnson said playing without Jones. "Obviously he's one of the best defenders in the league, and when he's not in there, it can really have an affect on us."
Thanks to the Tide’s slow start, Florida gained its first double-digit advantage 7½ minutes into the game and led 22-9 on a 3-pointer from Keyontae Johnson at the 11-minute mark, opening up the game having made 10 of its first 17 field goal tries during that span.
Jones, who leads Alabama with 17 charges taken this season, was noticeably absent from inside the lane as the Gators scored on 11 of its 16 first-half field goals in the paint to lead 16-12 on points in the paint during the lopsided first half.
Jones’ second-half return to the floor helped spark an 8-0 run midway through the second half as Alabama cut Florida’s lead to 52-44 on a Jones free throw, but the Gators answered on a 3-point play by Andrew Nembhard to maintain its advantage.
2. Turnover numbers
After coughing up 64 combined turnovers over its last four games, including a season-high 21 at Auburn and another 18 at Mississippi State on Tuesday, Alabama was much more judicious with the basketball on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide managed just 11 turnovers against the Gators, with freshman point guard Kira Lewis Jr. (three) and sophomore wing John Petty (two) representing the only Alabama players with multiple turnovers.
It was the Tide’s best game in the turnover department since surrendering nine in a 74-53 win over Ole Miss on Jan. 22.
Despite the improvement, there wasn’t much else positive to take away from Saturday’s showing, with both players and coaches bemoaning an overall lack of energy in such a late-season home game.
"I don't think the sky is necessarily falling, but boy it's really cloudy right now," Johnson said. "I'm very disappointed in myself, very disappointed with our effort."
3. Mack's struggles
After posting a season-high 25-point effort in Alabama’s last home game against Georgia, Mack’s offensive game fell flat in his return to Coleman Coliseum.
Mack finished with just four points on a porous 1-of-8 shooting effort, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range, in 24 minutes of action Saturday. It’s Mack’s fewest points at home since a four-point game against Ole Miss three weeks ago.
Expected to be one of Alabama’s more consistent scorers this season, Mack hasn’t had back-to-back double-digit scoring games since the start of SEC play in January.