Defense, Foul Shots Key Tide Win
Playing without junior Tony Mitchell for the fourth consecutive game and senior JaMychal Green for the third straight contest because of their suspensions, Alabama Coach Anthony Grant cobbled together yet another lineup and the Crimson Tide took a 62-50 win over Tennessee in Coleman Coliseum Saturday.
Crimson Tide star point guard Trevor Releford didn't start the game, reportedly because the sophomore had been treating an injured ankle suffered in Bama's loss to Florida earlier in the week. Moreover, the man who has replaced Green when he was suspended and Mitchell when he was suspended was not available because of a facial injury suffered in practice earlier in the week. Freshman Nick Jacobs was held out against the Vols.
Alabama did it primarily with defense, but the Crimson Tide also had a good night at the foul line before 12,998 in Coleman Coliseum.
Bama forced 17 turnovers and scored 19 points off those Volunteers miscues.
Although Bama scored five more points from the field than did the Vols, Bama was also a nifty 23-30 from the free throw line while Tennessee made 16-24.
Alabama ended a two-game losing streak with the win. The Tide improved to 17-9 overall and evened its record at 6-6 in Southeastern Conference play. Tennessee fell to 6-6 in the SEC and 14-13 overall.
Alabama goes back on the road Thursday, playing at Arkansas at 6 p.m. CST. Earlier this year the Tide defeated the Razorbacks in Tuscaloosa, 72-66. Bama returns to Coleman Coliseum next Saturday, hosting Mississippi State at 5 p.m. CST. The Bulldogs won the first match-up in Starkville, 56-52.
Alabama started with a four guard lineup, three of them freshmen, along with sophomore post player Moussa Gueye making his first start. The guards were freshmen Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, and Rodney Cooper. Junior Andrew Steele, who was a student-coach up until the first of the year, was the fifth starter.
Lacey scored 18 points, including a career-high nine made free throws, to go with four steals to lead the Crimson Tide. Releford, who played 27 minutes, added 13 points and five steals while Steele totaled 10 points along with career-high seven assists and five steals. Sophomore center Carl Engstrom, who rotated with Gueye, had career-highs in points (7), rebounds (7) and minutes (23).
As a team Alabama came away with a season-high in steals with 15 and made free throws with 23.
Alabama used a 20-3 second half run to blow open a tight game and take a commanding 52-35 lead on its way to the victory. Defensively, the Tide held Tennessee to just one field goal over a 12-minute stretch during the deciding run.
Bama had a 10-0 run in the first half and held a 29-25 lead at halftime.
Alabama held the Vols to 34.1 per cent shooting (15-44) from the field, including 4-20 on three-point shots. Alabama made 17-46 (37 per cent) on field goals, including 5-18 (27.6 per cent) on treys. Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "Once again it goes to effort, style of play-wise. We had a tremendous effort on defense, which allowed us to create points off turnovers. We didn't have a great day shooting but we played well on defense. We created 17 turnovers and 15 of those were steals. We were able to get to the line a lot. You know, Tennessee came in playing well offensively in terms of creating their own shots and making baskets. I think three or four of their players were scoring double-figures the past three games. Their shots didn't fall and that played well for us on offense and defense."
The Crimson Tide had a 37-31 advantage in rebounding which helped Bama to a 10-6 advantage in second half points and a 22-18 margin in points in the paint.
Grant said, "It was a fun game to watch. We competed and played well together. The game didn't start off that great; we made some mistakes. We started off slow and couldn't find our shot early but we persevered. We became more focused as the game wore on and they completed the task at hand. It was great for the team to be locked in to our game plan and complete the task at hand. They put in a lot of hard work this week. We had a great week of preparation. They're so many guys who stepped up today. It was great to see Moussa Gueye play hard and be aggressive defensively. Trevor Releford was a big boost for us emotionally. Trevor Lacey stepped up in a big way by being aggressive as well and taking control of the game the way he did against a good Tennessee team. All of our guys did a great job today."
Grant said his two big men, Gueye and Engstrom, "are capable of playing well and they know they can have a huge impact on the game. I'm extremely proud of the way they worked. They played extremely hard and it's great to see that hard work pay off."
The coach said Steele "was terrific. Steele had seven assists and five steals and played tremendously well over the stretch of the game. He took over the game when he needed to and it showed. His defensive effort rubbed off on his teammates, and we were able to create points off their turnovers."
Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said, "I thought Alabama did a good job of protecting their home court. One thing I talked to our guys about was that a team this hungry will find a way to win this game. They are a very hungry team. They have very talented young guys. Some of them haven't played a lot but they are very talented. They will come out ready to fight. They will scratch and claw their way to a win and they did just that from start to finish and they found a way to win. They did a great job in the second half especially getting steals and turning us over with their press."
TIDE NOTES: - Tennessee became the 16th opponent held under 60 points. UA is now 13-3 when holding its opponent under 60 points. The 50 points tied for the Vols third lowest of the season.
The Volunteers shot 34.1 per cent from the field to tie for its second lowest percentage of the season.
Bama has now held 24 of its 26 opponents below their season average in scoring.
Alabama's defense also recorded a season-high 15 steals and forced 17 Tennessee turnovers.
The Vols scored 0.83 points per possession, the second lowest by any of Alabama's SEC opponents this season.
The Tide has now had 10 or more steals eight times this season.
Alabama outscored Tennessee in the paint, 22-18, as UA has now outscored or played 23 of its opponents even in the paint.
Bama's bench held a 20-6 advantage in points in the paint. The bench has outscored seven straight opponents.
Lacey's 18 points were his second most of the season and most since Jan. 7. It was his eighth game in double figure scoring this season.
- UA's 17-point lead was its second biggest in an SEC game this season.
Moussa Gueye recorded a career-high six blocks, the most by a UA player this season.
Carl Engstrom recorded a career high with seven points and matched a career high with seven rebounds.
Andrew Steele had a career-high seven assists and a career-high five steals. It was the sixth time this season a Tide player has recorded five or more steals in a game.
The win was Alabama's 30th in the last 33 games at Coleman Coliseum and its 13th win in its last 15 SEC games at home.
Alabama got to the free-throw line 30 times, its second most this season and most in an SEC game.
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