Courtesy of UA Athletics
The same issue that has plagued the Alabama Crimson Tide for years struck again on Thursday night. The Crimson Tide (4-1) missed 12 free throws in a 72-68 loss to the Iona Gaels (6-0) at the ESPN Events Invitational.
Alabama shot an overall 13-for-25 from the stripe, and it cost them.
“I feel like when you lose yourself in the game playing the right way, the free-throws sometimes just take care of themselves,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said.
Once again, guard Jaden Shackelford led Alabama in scoring with 19 points, but it came on a 6-for-17 shooting night. His backcourt partner, guard Jahvon Quinerly, added 15 more.
Quinerly missed four crucial free-throws. Freshman JD Davison also struggled. He was 4-for-8 from the line.
The Gaels had a balanced attack, with five players scoring double digits. Forward Nelly Junior Joseph and guard Walter Clayton Jr. led the way with 15 each. Joseph also had 11 rebounds and four blocks.
As a team, the Crimson Tide shot 44.6% from the field but never found its rhythm from beyond the arc, making only five of 17 attempts. Alabama out-rebounded Iona 38-31. Both sides committed 13 turnovers.
Following the loss to Alabama last year, Iona came out ready to play.
The Gaels and Crimson Tide were tied after 10 minutes of action. The teams went back and forth for the duration of the game. Neither team jumped to a double-digit lead.
The Crimson Tide went into the halftime break leading 33-29 after a physical first half.
Alabama grabbed a 46-37 lead with 12:28 remaining, but they could not put the Gaels away. The longer Alabama let Iona stay in the game, the more Iona believed they could win.
After an out-of-bounds call, Oats received a technical foul for arguing with referee Doug Sirmons.
Iona went on a 10-1 run to tie the game at 47 with less than 10 minutes to play. The pressure flipped to the Crimson Tide.
After a made free-throw, Alabama was up 57-52 with eight minutes left. This time, Iona went on a 12-2 run to jump in front of Alabama, leading 64-59 with 3:23 on the clock.
Leading 66-65 with about a minute left, Iona guard Elijah Joiner made an Alabama defender fall, hit a step-back 3-pointer and extended the lead to four.
Quinerly came down the court and fired a pass to Shackelford, who knocked down a 3-pointer of his own to cut the lead to one with 57 seconds left.
After a made free-throw, Alabama had 20 seconds to either tie or take the lead. Quinerly drove past a defender but was blocked at the rim by guard Berrick JeanLouis.
The Gaels made both free-throws to put the game on ice.
“We didn’t play well obviously,” Oats said. “Gotta give a ton of credit to Iona. They came out and played the right way. They played hard. We got them down nine in the second half, and they responded with a 10-1 run. I think my tech was in the middle of that. That’s on me. It wasn’t timely on my end.”
Oats reminded everyone that last year’s SEC championship-winning team started 4-3.
“Last year, seven games in, we were 4-3,” Oats said. “We’d like to be 5-0. I thought we could have been easily, but sometimes it’s better to take a loss and learn from it.”
Alabama will play again Friday night against the winner of Belmont and Drake.
“We gotta learn and move on,” Oats said. “Good thing is we play in less than 24 hours.”
Since Oats took over, the Crimson Tide have attempted less than 20 3-pointers twice. Both were against Iona.
“They’re trying to stay home on the shooters, and trying to make us finish over them at the rim,” Oats said. “You’ve got to be able to finish at the rim. [Rick Pitino] is a Hall of Fame coach. He knows what he’s doing. We gotta do a better job of understanding how teams are playing us.”
The time and station for Friday’s game is to be determined.