No. 24 Alabama fell to Central Florida by a score of 65-62 in a Sunday matinee at Coleman Coliseum.
The Crimson Tide failed to get into an offensive flow, particularly in the second half. Alabama was 43 percent from the field and a shoddy 23 percent from 3-point range for the game.
Collin Sexton’s struggles were among the most noticeable. The freshman guard came into Sunday’s contest averaging 24.7 points per game, but finished the contest with 7 points on 0-of-4 shooting.
Alabama started the game hot and it appeared it might run away with this one early, with the Crimson Tide was sharing the ball and scoring was spread evenly.
Throughout the game, whenever Alabama was in a position to extend the lead, it allowed UCF to go on small runs that kept the Knights within striking distance.
After a solid first half, the Tide led UCF 36-30 heading into the break.
However, it looked like a different Alabama team in the second half.
Poor shooting, bad decision-making, and lackluster defense allowed UCF to scrap its way back into the game. The Knights were able to capitalize on the Tide’s errors and claimed a 45-44 lead with 13:44 remaining in the game, UCF’s first lead since the first minutes of the opening half.
Alabama would not lead again. Mental errors and a few turnovers doomed the Crimson Tide.
John Petty’s 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out and handed Alabama its first home loss of the young season.
Donta Hall led all scorers with 20 points and made all nine shots from the field.
This game is indicative of what can happen to a team that relies on freshmen to produce each game.
Sexton was not able to make a field goal and did not look like his aggressive, rim-attacking self. Perhaps the presence of college basketball tallest player, 7’6″ center Tacko Fall, contributed to Sexton’s reluctance.
Petty also struggled to get his 3-point shot to fall and ended the game 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. Petty’s ankle that he injured against Minnesota may not be 100 percent healthy and could be a reason for his recent troubles.
Whether that is the case or not, Petty took some ill-advised shots in this game, including one late in the game that did not find the rim. He is a great shooter and has the green light, but needs to refine his decision making and shot selection.
Again, these are all growing pains with freshmen players.
Coming off a career night in Alabama’s prior game against Louisiana Tech in which he scored 22 points, Dazon Ingram tallied only 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting.
With Sexton and Petty not playing as their usual selves, Alabama needed more production from Ingram. The Tide did not get a lot of scoring from him, but he was able to grab seven boards and dish out four assists.
Ingram is an excellent rebounder as a big, athletic guard. His contributions as a rebounder and passer will be needed from this Alabama team throughout the season.
Hall was a bright spot for Alabama in this game. He scored a career-high 20 points on a perfect day from the field. He also showed why he is one of the elite rim-protectors in all of college basketball with his four blocks.
It has been incredible to see his progression from not only his first year, but from last season to now. Hall is such a more polished player than he once was. He is a much improved finisher around the basket and has shown that he can be a great defender without fouling, an issue for him in his first two seasons.
He is now averaging 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Hall is also shooting 73 percent from the field and 67 percent from the free-throw line, respectively.
This was not an awful loss for Alabama (UCF is ranked 76th in KenPom) but a game that it really should have won and needed to win.
UCF was without its best player in B.J. Taylor, and the Knights were riding a three-game losing streak headed into the game.
Throw in the fact that this was a home game for the Tide, and the loss certainly stings.
Rebounding and decision making remain areas upon which Alabama needs to improve. It is a long season, and it has barely even started. This Crimson Tide team is far from a finished product.
Alabama has a chance to bounce back on Wednesday when the Rhode Island Rams, the overwhelming favorite to win the Atlantic-10, visit Coleman Coliseum.