NEW YORK | For most of a 25-game stretch, the University of Alabama had managed to hide its weaknesses and highlight its assets. But on Thursday night, just a stretch of city blocks from Wall Street, the bubble burst.
The Crimson Tide struggled to shoot from the perimeter and had to work around foul trouble that kept star JaMychal Green on the bench in the key stretch of the second half as a balanced Wichita State team pulled away for a 66-57 win and the NIT championship.
It was the second time in a decade Alabama had reached the NIT final and fallen short.
"We lost to a better team today," Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant. "I can live with that. Hopefully, this experience will make us better."
The Tide made just two field goals in the second half that were neither layups or dunks, and missed 12 straight 3-pointers at one point. UA shot just 25 percent in the second half.
Despite that lack of firepower, Alabama trailed just 58-52 with 4:35 remaining. But with Green sitting at the scorer's table waiting to get in, Wichita State's Graham Hatch - the tournament's Most Outstanding Player in a media vote - hit a pair of devastating 3-pointers, pushing the lead to 64-52 with 3:01 to go. That was more deficit than Alabama could handle, even with Green - who had picked up his fourth foul with 10:59 to go - back in the game.
"I didn't feel like they were fouls, so I'm not sure what I could do about it," said Green, who picked up his third and fourth fouls on consecutive trips to the offensive end. "I try to be less aggressive, but it was very frustrating."
"Maybe I went a little too long without putting (Green) back into the game," Grant said. "But what happened in that stretch didn't happen on our offense. The shots they hit were not shots by the player JaMychal would have been guarding. Their guy stepped up and we couldn't recover."
Forward Chris Hines said the Tide's offensive breadowns were a result of impatience, not Green's absence.
"They were taking clean, good shots and we were just shooting jumpers when we needed to attack the rim," Hines said. "That was the difference."
Said Grant, "Their depth, physicality and skill were better than ours today. They were better team today, but it takes nothing away from the season our team had. It's a disappointment for our seniors, but for our younger players, it's a building block."
Alabama led by as many as five points in the first half before Wichita State (29-8) went on an 11-2 run midway through the half, giving the Shockers a 33-25 lead with 4:41 until halftime.
The Tide cut that deficit to 37-34 at halftime and took its last lead, 41-40, on a Hines free throw with 15:06 to play. But the Tide scored just two points in the next six minutes as Wichita State took a 51-43 lead with 9:24 to play.
Alabama came back within four points at one juncture, but could not withstand the Shockers' 11-1 run that pushed their lead to 66-52 with two minutes to play.
Hatch and J.T. Durley scored 12 points each to pace Wichita State. Tony Mitchell of UA led all scorers with 13 points, while Green added 12. The Wichita State bench outscored Alabama's 27-7.
The Tide finished its season at 25-12 after a 5-6 start.
"I'm really proud of what our guys were able to accomplish, with the things we had to overcome," Grant said. "The way our a guys came together after difficult start to season with a freshman point guard and some uncertainty as to roles was impressive.
"We grew, we got better, as a coach, that's what you want to do. We had a lot to overcome, some of it was ourselves. But I was able to grow as a coach, our players grew and I think in time we will look back and think this was a great accomplishment, to be playing at the end of March. We'll mature and grow and be better for it."