Alabama guard Trevor Lacey battling to keep possession in the Crimson Tide’s 62-43 win over Northeastern. Alabama moves on to the second round of the NIT with the victory. (AP photo)
The final straw for Alabama’s NCAA Tournament hopes, the loss in the SEC Tournament semifinals to Florida, hinged on a clutch second half run that not only sealed Alabama’s fate for the National Invitational Tournament, but also for several other losses along the way.
The Crimson Tide attacked – with reckless abandon – the Northeastern defense to make a second half run of its own for once, a 22-0 spurt that consumed eight of the final 20 minutes in Alabama’s 62-43 win.
“We were concerned, when you look at their numbers and what they’ve done in their league, that we had to do a really good job defensively,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “The thing that’s really scary about this team is you look at their last three games they played, and they were in double-digits holes in all three games and they had opportunities to win them.”
“I thought because guys stayed aggressive on the offensive end, we were able to win comfortably.”
Alabama’s aggressiveness even bested its own gameplan. Two of the biggest plays of the game, baseline dribble-drive slam dunks from sophomore guard Levi Randolph on back-to-back possessions, were not by design.
“They were just making plays,” Grant said.
Randolph added, “I was in the corner, and Trevor (Releford) found me on the drive. I was just able to rip through, I had a nice seal by Moussa (Gueye) on the baseline and I was just able to go up and finish it.”
But the excitement, as it has all season long, came with an equal number of scares. After starting the game on a 24-9 run, Alabama let the Huskies piece together a 9-2 run to bring the game within reach at halftime.
“All-of-a-sudden for them to go on that run like they did, I thought a lot of it was what we weren’t doing,” Grant said. “Not taking anything away from Northeastern, but from that standpoint, I don’t think we did a good job learning the lessons that we needed to learn.”
At the end of the night, Alabama’s win was enough to satisfy its leaders.
“Coming out of the half, we challenged them to step it back up and get back to what allowed us to get the lead in the first place,” Grant said.
Satisfy, not please. Grant is adamant about his team’s demeanor in those slumps that turned a early blowout into a hotly-contested battle at the break.
“As a team, we have to get beyond that,” Grant said. “That’s the maturity I’m looking for from our guys, to stop letting that happen, to stop allowing that to happen. Obviously you can’t always control what the other team does, but let’s not do it to ourselves.”