MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Avery Johnson generated some excitement, if not more wins, during his first season at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide boosted attendance by nearly 3,000 fans per game at Coleman Coliseum and was even drawing NCAA Tournament buzz before late troubles hit. On the court, Alabama wound up winning one fewer game than in the season before Johnson's arrival and losing in the first round of the NIT instead of the second.
The Tide's season ended with Tuesday night's 72-54 loss at Creighton, the sixth defeat in the team's final eight games. Johnson's first college team produced an 18-15 record, including 8-10 in Southeastern Conference games same as the previous season. The former NBA head coach and point guard brought renewed fan interest to the program, at least, in his debut season but he's taking more of a long view.
''We had 18 wins in our first year and we are changing the culture,'' Johnson said. ''We want to become a perennial NCAA Tournament team and I think we've taken a step in the right direction. We set attendance records for average per game attendance (13,110). We beat four ranked teams and won some games this program hadn't won in a very long time. We had a lot to celebrate this year, but we still have a ways to go.''
The team might have overachieved considering Alabama was picked to finish next to last in the SEC after losing its top three scorers. Plus point guard Dazon Ingram, a freshman starter, went down with a season-ending injury seven games into the season.
The team loses starting guards Retin Obasohan and Arthur Edwards. Obasohan was the Tide's leading scorer and his emergence as an All-SEC performer was a big factor in Alabama's success.
Johnson does get back Ingram and fellow guards Justin Coleman and Riley Norris, along with forwards Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor. Ingram was averaging 7.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and more than three assists in his first seven games with the Tide, all starts.
Transfers Avery Johnson Jr., the coach's son, and Nick King also become eligible after sitting out this season.
Obasohan expressed optimism about the program's future in a series of messages on social media after the game.
''Don't lose hope, because the best is yet to come for'' Alabama basketball, Obasohan posted on Twitter. ''And you will want to have your seatbelt buckled for when it comes.''