TUSCALOOSA — The final shot, a meaningless 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr., fell harmlessly into the hands of a Vanderbilt player without even touching the rim Tuesday night.
It was that sort of night for Alabama, which had three players combine for more than 91 percent of its scoring in a 87-79 loss to last-place Vanderbilt in Tuesday night's regular-season home finale.
It was just the latest in a series of disappointing home losses in Nate Oats’ first season at the helm. The list also includes defeats against Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M. As a result, short of winning the SEC tournament, the Crimson Tide (16-14, 8-9 SEC) saw its NCAA tournament hopes drop to nil.
The loss came despite a season-high effort from Alabama’s lone senior, James “Beetle” Bolden, on Senior Night. The Covington, Ky., native scored 17 of his season-high 24 points in the first half, shooting a career-high seven 3-pointers in the last regular-season home game of his collegiate career. Bolden also had a 23-point effort against Southern Mississippi in late November.
Lewis Jr. scored 17 of his 30 points in the second half, while freshman guard Jaden Shackelford added all 18 of his points in the second half following an 0-of-3 first half, as the duo combined for 35 of the Crimson Tide’s 44 second-half points on 12-of-24 shooting by themselves as the rest of the team shot a combined 3-of-13 in the second half.
Bolden, Lewis and Shackelford combined for 72 of Alabama’s 79 points on 24-of-51 field goals, including 11-of-27 from 3-point range, while the other five players on the floor combined to shoot 2-of-12 overall and just 1-of-11 from distance in the game. That included a forgettable 1-of-9 night from 3-point range from junior forward Alex Reese, who finished with just 3 points in 18 minutes Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt junior guard Saben Lee scored 38 points on 14-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range, to go along with eight rebounds and five assists in the effort.
Alabama will wrap up the regular season with a road game at Missouri on Saturday (1:30 p.m.) before opening SEC Tournament play on Thursday from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Here are three takeaways from Alabama’s 87-79 home loss to visiting Vanderbilt:
1. Tide defense, shooting porous in first half and late in the second half.
Outside of Bolden and Lewis, the first half was a rough going for the Crimson Tide.
Bolden (17 points) and Lewis (13) combined for 30 of Alabama’s 35 first-half points on a combined 10-of-17 shooting from the floor. Meanwhile, the rest of the team shot a combined 1-of-9 from the floor, including 0-of-3 from Shackleford and 1-of-5 from junior forward Alex Reese.
After taking a 27-22 lead on six straight points from Lewis, Alabama made just 2 of its final 10 field goal tries over the final eight minutes of the first half, including missing six straight.
During the same span of time, Vanderbilt took the lead making 7 of its final 11 field goals over the last 7:55 of the first half, including pulling head on a 13-3 run before closing out the final two minutes on a 7-2 run to enter halftime up 42-35.
Lee scored 20 of his 38 points in the first half on 8-of-12 from the floor, including a pair of 3s.
Vanderbilt’s leading scorer continued to have a hot hand in the second half, including spurring the Dores’ late second-half surge with 10 straight points during a 12-2 run over a 3:41 span to pull ahead 80-73 with 2:25 remaining. Saben finished 14-of-20 from the field in the game, including 6-of-8 in the second half.
It was during that point that Alabama simply couldn’t find the bottom of the net, missing six straight field goals over a 3½-minute stretch and 10 of its last 11 shots over the final 5:54 of the game.
2. Second half becomes Lewis and Shack show.
Needing an offensive spark after the rough first half effort, Alabama turned to its two youngest guards — Lewis and Shackelford.
Lewis started things off with an uncontested layup nine seconds into the second half, and Shackelford followed by making his first 3-pointer of the game 38 seconds later. The pair combined to score Alabama’s first 28 points of the second half to pull even with Vanderbilt 63-63 before a 3-pointer from Bolden gave the Tide its first lead, 66-65, with 9:52 remaining.
But much like his first-half effort, Shackelford went cold after scoring 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting over the first 7:56 of the second half, before missing his final three 3-point tries in the last six minutes of action.
That was part of a 1-of-11 shooting effort from the floor over the game’s final six minutes, the lone made field goal a 3-pointer from Lewis to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 83-79 with 48 seconds remaining.
3. Bolden saves season-best effort for Senior Night.
Bolden received a standing ovation from the scattered Crimson Tide fans in attendance when he was honored during a pregame Senior Day ceremony as Alabama’s lone senior
Bolden walked to midcourt along with his girlfriend and Alabama assistant coach Bryan Hodgson, who recruited him from West Virginia.
Bolden also made his first start since the second week of the season and played the game of the season, scoring 24 points.