TUSCALOOSA, AL - The University of Alabama basketball team couldn't overcome a 15-point second half deficit as they fell 71-67 to Cornell at Coleman Coliseum in head coach Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide debut.
The Big Red quickly extended a six-point halftime lead to 15 with three straight three-pointers to open the second period, but the Tide would not go away, clawing back into the game by forcing turnovers and attacking the basket on offense. Alabama answered Cornell's 9-0 run with a 7-0 spurt of their own capped by a steal and bucket by senior Anthony Brock to cut the lead to eight and get back in the game.
The Tide used full-court defensive pressure to pull closer, forcing nine second-half turnovers that led to 15 points. Alabama got within one point at 53-54 on a pair of free throws by senior Mikhail Torrance, but could not get over the hump thanks in large part to stellar shooting by Cornell, especially from beyond the arc.
"I thought we were able to get the tempo the way we wanted (in the second half)," Grant said. "I thought it allowed us to get ourselves back in the game and gave us a chance to win at the end. And give Cornell credit. They made some plays against the press that were momentum stoppers."
Cornell made 7-of-10 three point attempts after halftime, and each time Alabama would draw within one possession it seemed they had an answer. Cornell shot 62.5 percent from the field in the second half and 50.0 percent for the game. The visitors made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 1:21 to put the game away.
"The three-point line is the great equalizer in college basketball," Grant said. "It's a game changer. They came out tonight, and they made some timely threes. They made some where we didn't do a very good job of getting matched up with their shooters and identifying where we needed to be, and other ones were contested and they actually made some very tough shots."
Alabama kept the game tight by making shots and getting to the free throw line in the second half. The Tide bounced back from a tough shooting performance in the first half to shoot 55.6 percent from the field in the second, and after not attempting a foul shot before the break, Alabama got to the line 22 times after halftime, converting 15.
Four Alabama players scored in double-figures led by sophomore JaMychal Green who posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Eleven of Green's points came in the second half when the Tide fed him the ball regularly in the post.
"I felt like it was a good game, even though we lost," Green said. "We became better as a team. We fought hard and competed out there. We showed a lot of fight in our hearts. Right now, even though we lost, we showed progress."
Torrance poured in 16 points off the bench on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. After only playing four minutes and scoring two points before the break due to foul trouble, the senior made his presence felt in the second half, slashing to the basket for layups time and again.
Brock scored 15 points and made 3-of-4 shots from beyond the arc. He also led the Tide's defensive effort, coming away with three steals. Freshman Tony Mitchell rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Tide with 12 points off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting.
"I thought our guys did a good job today of trying to play to our identity," Grant said. "I thought we fought hard; we put ourselves in position to have a chance. But unfortunately it came down to what we want to pride ourselves on and that's our ability to defend and rebound, and to be honest with you, I think we didn't do a good enough job here in the second half here today to get the victory."
Alabama trailed 26-20 at the break in a half in which both teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively. Neither team shot better than 40 percent from the field before intermission. The six-point deficit the Tide faced could be mostly attributed to the charity stripe where Cornell went 5-for-9 while Alabama did not attempt a free throw.
The Big Red jumped out to a 10-2 lead early, but the Crimson Tide battled back behind a pair of three-pointers from Brock and closed the deficit to two at 20-18 on a Hillman jumper with 7:58 left. Alabama held Cornell without a field goal for the final 6:51 of the first half but were unable to close the gap because of its own offensive difficulties.
Mitchell slammed home a tip-dunk with 2:50 remaining for the Tide's final bucket before the break. Brock and Green had six points each to lead Alabama in the first.
Cornell's Ryan Wittman led all scorers with 23 points, doing most of his damage from three-point range where he made 5-of-8 attempts. Seven-foot center Jeff Foote added 17 points on 7-14 shooting.