KISSIMEE, Fla. — Alabama basketball was upset by Iona 72-68 in the Crimson Tide’s ESPN Events Invitational opener on Thursday. Nelly Joseph and Walter Clayton Jr. made key free throws in the final seconds for the Gaels.
No. 9 Alabama (4-1) led by four points at halftime over the Gaels (6-0), and was up by nine with 12:27 remaining to play at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Iona responded with a 10-1 run and the Tide again took over to lead 56-50 with 7:55 left. The Gaels took over with a 14-3 run and kept the lead.
Instead of a possible showdown in the championship with No. 3 Kansas, Alabama drops into the losers bracket and will play Drake (3-1) at 3:30 p.m. CT in Friday.
In was a bit of revenge for Iona after losing to Alabama 68-55 in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
Crimson Tide’s defense hounds Gaels, until second half
The shots often didn’t come easy for Iona in the first half, and more often than not didn’t fall against a tough Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide held Iona to 37.5 % shooting from the floor and 18.2% from behind the arc in that stretch. But Alabama’s effectiveness overall didn’t hold through.
Iona was able to hit 51.9% in the second half to finish at 44.1 % . It did that while still struggling mightily from behind the arc. And it helped that the vast majority of the Gaels’ free throws came in the second half.
Alabama fails to hit many 3-pointers
Alabama entered the contest averaging 10.8 made 3-pointers for 25th in the nation and 34 attempted. However, the Crimson Tide attempted just five in the first half and hit only one. Alabama finished 5-for-17 (29.4%).
Shackelford was 4-for-10 from 3-point range. The Crimson Tide weren’t forcing numerous, ill-advised 3-pointers, they just weren’t efficient at the ones they did choose to take.
“If we could limit them from a large number of 3s, I felt we had a shot,” Iona coach Rick Pitino said.
Alabama struggles from the free-throw line
The Crimson Tide finished 13-for-25 from the free-throw line, hitting only 52%. The Gaels shot 76.2%, going 16-for-21.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama basketball upset by Iona in ESPN Events Invitational opener