Making free throws in crunch time has been Alabama basketball’s kryptonite in past seasons, so when sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. stepped to the free throw line to shoot two free throws while trailing by one point, it was all too familiar for Crimson Tide fans. Both free throws hit off the rim and resulted in an 81-80 loss to Penn.
The two missed free throws by Lewis overshadowed his career night of 30 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“It’s tough to lose like that, but you just have to keep moving forward,” Lewis said. “After this, I’m going to have to go shoot some free throws because I just can’t live with not making free throws at the end of the game.”
The Crimson Tide had to rely on Lewis in the second half, as Lewis played all 20 minutes and scored 22 in the second half, including a 3-pointer to give Alabama a one-point lead with 20 seconds remaining.
Despite the missed free throws, there was a multitude of problems that led to Lewis being forced to make free throws to extend the game, including turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, shooting under 50% from inside the 3-point line and shooting 0 for 7 from three to start the second half.
“If [Kira] makes those two free throws, all everyone thinks is how their mistakes aren’t big mistakes because we won the game,” coach Nate Oats said. “When you lose by one point, every single mistake you make is a big deal. When we watch the video and a guy doesn’t sprint back on defense and gives up a layup, that’s the game. Not the two free throws.”
Alabama’s lack of inside presence was a glaring issue, as Penn scored 42 points in the paint, 16 of which came from senior forward A.J. Brodeur. Forwards Galin Smith, Javian Davis and Alex Reese combined for eight points, nine rebounds and nine fouls.
“Javian, Galin and Reese split all the minutes at the five, which left not a lot of rotation compared to the guard spot,” Oats said.
Freshman Jaden Shackelford was in the starting lineup for his collegiate debut and finished with 16 points and five rebounds. Graduate transfer guard James “Beetle” Bolden scored 10 points while bringing in five rebounds.
Alabama will play Florida Atlantic next Monday in Coleman Coliseum at 7 p.m.