TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ahead of Alabama's matchup with South Dakota State, Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats called it a maturity game for his team. After Alabama let a 20-point lead slip away before rallying for a double-digit win Saturday night, Oats said the Crimson Tide still has room to grow in that area.
Early on, no one wearing Crimson was missing inside Coleman Coliseum Saturday night. Noah Clowney was drilling 3-pointers, and even an Alabama student banked in a half-court shot to win hundreds of dollars worth of free barbecue during a commercial break.
It was smooth sailing for the Crimson Tide in the first half, building up to a 20-point lead on 9-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc. But then, the shots stopped falling. And all of a sudden, Alabama found itself trailing South Dakota State in the second half after going on a scoring drought of more than six minutes.
"When shots stopped falling, we stopped playing," Clowney said. "Every possession matters, and I feel like we didn’t play like that tonight.”
When the Jackrabbits took the lead for the first time since the opening bucket of the game, Oats called a timeout. From that point on, the Crimson Tide doubled the scoring output of South Dakota State on the way to a 78-65 win for No. 11 Alabama.
"To get up 20 and then give that lead up, only be up seven going into the half, end up being down one after being up 20, I think a more mature group doesn’t have the defensive letdown we had," Oats said after the game. "But we did show enough character after giving up the lead. We did get it back. So I’m not gonna call them immature, but we’ve got some room to grow."
Oats brought up Alabama's losses to bad Georgia and Missouri teams last season and doesn't want to see those type of losses repeated with this year's team.
"We can’t have that this year," Oats said. "Have we matured enough from last year? I thought we showed more maturity tonight, but not to the level we need to get it to.”
Alabama is a young team, with two true freshmen, a sophomore and two transfers in the starting lineup. Mark Sears, one of the transfers and veteran presences on the team, finished with 19 points in the win.
After literally beating No. 1 North Carolina last week, Sears said the Crimson Tide needs to view every team it plays like they are a top team. South Dakota State was 3-5 coming into Saturday night's game. He said the team got complacent, especially on defense, after the big lead against the Jackrabbits.
"We’ve got to play everybody like they’re the No. 1 team in the nation," Sears said. "We’ve got to look at every team, even if they don’t have as much hype, like they’re just as good as us basically."
Alabama improved to 7-1 with the win and has a tough stretch at Houston, against Memphis at home and a neutral site matchup with Gonzaga coming up. Oats said his team still had a little bit of a West Coast hangover from the trip to Portland, so the coaching staff cancelled the usual postgame lift and is going to give the players the day off on Sunday.
"It’s good to get the win," Oats said. "We could’ve easily got down one and let the whole thing go in the wrong direction. I thought our guys stepped up when we got down one, and got some stops when we needed to.”
Gallery: Alabama Basketball vs. South Dakota State
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