John Petty Jr. picked an ideal time to climb out of his March funk, which could help Alabama make history
For a moment in Alabama’s first-round game against Iona on Saturday night, it seemed more likely that John Petty would punt the basketball into the Hinkle Fieldhouse windows before he made an outside shot.
Petty’s frustration was visible. He was in the midst of his 4th consecutive game of shooting struggles.
A 3-for-13 clip from the floor and a 3-for-8 mark from the free-throw line told the story of Petty’s shooting. He somehow got to 10 points and snapped out of his 3-game streak in single digits — his longest such stretch since February 2020 — but the numbers weren’t pretty for Petty in that 4-game stretch. He was 11-for-41 (27%) from the floor and 7-for-26 (27%) from 3-point range. For the guy who made more 3-pointers than any SEC player in 2020-21, it was indeed a slump.
Despite that, Nate Oats played Petty for 31 minutes. After the senior’s rough NCAA Tournament start, Oats shared an important message with him.
“My point to (Petty) was, you just had one of your worst performances of the year, we still won in the NCAA Tournament,” Oats said after Alabama’s Round 1 win (via AL.com). “You don’t have to score the ball for us to be all right. Your defense and all that other stuff is great. You’re contributing to a win, just let the offense flow.”
Consider that another masterful string pulled by Oats.
Petty got right in Monday night’s blowout win against Maryland to advance to the Sweet 16. He scored 20 points and made 4 3-pointers. His confidence was back. Petty’s teammates clearly had confidence in him, too. Jahvon Quinerly started running the other way and celebrating before Petty rose up for this corner 3:
What a sequence! 🐘🏀
Petty to Quinerly to Petty for 3! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/6oDlJHOpPp
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) March 23, 2021
By the way, Oats was noticeably fired up after that 3. The Alabama coach knows how important it is to have Petty on track.
Another coach might’ve told Petty to cool down on the bench during that Iona game. Oats told Petty he was putting too much pressure on himself. Yeah, it showed. A disciplinarian would’ve told Petty he was taking Alabama out of its flow, which in hindsight, probably would’ve been the worst thing to tell the struggling sharpshooter.
Oats is hardly the first coach or the last coach to tell a prolific shooter to keep shooting. But it’s different with Petty because he’s obviously far more than just a shooter.
If he were just a shooter, there was no way he would’ve been out there for 31 minutes against Iona. He defends (he was second in the SEC in defensive win shares), he rebounds, he leads and perhaps lost in the shuffle of that is even when he’s in a shooting slump, he still helps space the floor. You’re not sagging off Petty even when it looks like he’s 1 miss from squeezing the air out of the ball.
Oats is right in terms of saying that Alabama’s performance isn’t necessarily dependent on Petty’s scoring. When he doesn’t hit double figures, Alabama is still 7-3 (.700).
What’s interesting is the 3-point shooting splits. When Petty hits 3 3-pointers in a game, Alabama is 13-1 (it was a Mitchell Smith block against Mizzou from making that 14-0). When Petty doesn’t make 3 3s in a game? That’s when Alabama suffered 5 of its 6 losses, though obviously a 12-5 mark isn’t bad (more on the 1 game Petty missed in a minute). Consider that another illustration of why Oats’ team has such a high floor. Well, at least it’s much higher than it was when it was a 4-3 team fresh off a loss to Western Kentucky back in December.
Alabama has grown since then. It appears Petty has, too.
After that Western Kentucky loss, Petty was held out of a game against East Tennessee State for what Oats called an “in-house decision.” Oats added that it wasn’t because of illness or injury, which suggests that something off the court occurred. Petty didn’t even start the following game in the SEC opener against Ole Miss. That was significant for a preseason first-team All-SEC selection who was a starter when healthy for basically his entire 4-year career in Tuscaloosa.
Whatever message Oats tried to get through to Petty, it worked. Not only did Petty finish in double figures in his next 9 games after that 1-game suspension, it also coincided with Alabama’s 9-0 start to SEC play. During that stretch, Petty averaged 15.3 points and shot 53% from 3-point range. The Crimson Tide put up 85 points per game in that 9-game run, which was 10 points better than what they averaged during that 4-3 start. Call it Alabama’s offensive awakening. It was certainly Petty’s.
Petty said after his first game back against Ole Miss that Oats always preaches that “once we’re about the right things, good things happen.”
On the year overall, his scoring is actually down with so many of Alabama’s weapons blossoming. Heading into the Sweet 16, he’s the team’s third-leading scorer with Jaden Shackelford and Quinerly ahead of him. It was Herb Jones who got the SEC Player of the Year honor. And even though Petty, Jones and Alex Reese all came to Alabama initially because of Avery Johnson’s staff, there’s no denying that all totally bought into their roles in Oats’ system.
Don’t get it twisted. Petty is by no means a traditional “role player.” The “3 and D” label doesn’t do his impact justice. He’s a major piece to the puzzle. The night and day difference between Iona and Maryland showed that.
It’s what takes Alabama’s ceiling to a new level. At its best, Alabama is capable of reaching its first Final Four.
Petty is nearly 7 months removed from announcing he was returning for his senior season. Because of the pandemic and the subsequently delayed NBA Draft, he got some extra time to make that decision. Needless to say, it’s paying dividends for both parties.
Sure, Alabama can win without Petty lighting it up from deep. But when he does? The Tide get rolling in a different sort of way.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after Monday night’s drubbing that “it took their a mojo a little bit when they kept making them” and that “it felt like everything they threw up went in.” It’s deflating.
Petty and Alabama certainly appear to about the right things heading into the Sweet 16.
Good things — historical things even — could be happening soon.