ATHENS, Ga. – When it came time to pick his starting lineup, Avery Johnson chose to go big, and go home, with a road win over Georgia, 80-60. And the “key” was a true freshman. As in Braxton Key, who scored a game-high and career-high 26 points. He was joined in double digits by Riley Norris and Corban Collins with 15 points each, while senior Jimmie Taylor added 10.
“You have to be confident,” Key said. “If you have no confidence, you can’t really play the game. (Assistant Head) Coach Bob (Simon) told me to play the game and be aggressive for 40 minutes. I felt really good coming into the game.”
Norris said, “I thought Braxton played really well, and Corban (Collins). We moved the ball really well tonight. Corban stepped up and he made some big 3s.”
Collins hit 4-of-5 behind the arc. Alabama made 9-of-15 from deep.
Johnson started a big lineup of 6-5 Dazon Ingram, 6-6 Norris, 6-6 Bola Olaniyan, 6-8 Key (at two guard), and 6-9 Hall.
Coach Avery Johnson said, “That’s something we’ve been talking about. We thought we needed to be bigger at the start of the game against (Yante) Maten (who still scored 20 points). We’ve been talking about in our rotation having both of our centers in the game together ,” Johnson said. “It all just came together for us.
“When we score 80 points, with our team, that’s pretty good for us.
“I want to dedicate this game to Coach Bill Battle, our outgoing athletics director. He’s the reason I’m at Alabama.”
Georgia Coach Mark Fox got mad, and his team paid for it. With 1:50 to go in the first half, Fox argued a carrying call vociferously enough to draw two techs and an automatic ejection (with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey on press row). Key drained three of four at the line, and Collins nailed a trey. Bama was up 14 after what had been a tight first 18 minutes.
Said Johnson: “I thought we were sharp and confident from the start of this game. We played pretty good overall team defense, and we shot the 3 well.
“Fortunately, J.J. Frazier didn’t have his best night. We were consistent. I’m proud of the way we competed.”
Frazier was held to four points. He came in averaging over 16.
Fox added: “I didn’t go a good enough job getting our team ready to play. I don’t take anything away from Alabama. I thought they were the aggressor and they played well.
“Here’s why I was upset. I fully understand that at Georgia, we’ve got to earn our keep. I want every team and every school to be treated fairly. These kids work their tails off, and they know that we’re going to fight for them and for Georgia, so that’s what I decided to do (when he got the two techs). We’re going to fight for our team and our school, every night. I have no regrets for what happened.”
Former Bama player and assistant coach Phillip Pearson finished the game coaching the Bulldogs.
“Coach Pearson did a good job. I put him in a tough situation,” said Fox. “I watched the rest of the game in the locker room with (former UGA legendary women’s) Coach Andy Landers.”
Collins struck again from deep in the right corner as the clock expired at half, and the Crimson Tide held a 41-27 lead at intermission. Suffice it to say that the Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 6,661 was not happy with the officials.
With 7:54 left, Georgia player Kenny Paul Geno drew a tech after the Dogs had cut the Tide lead to 14. Key made the shots, and on the ensuing possession, Dazon Ingram drew a foul and hit one of two to get The Tide back ahead 62-46.
The Dogs got as close as 10 points with 6:02 to go, partly because Taylor fouled out with 6:47 left. At the 4:49 mark, Georgia sharpshooter J.J. Frazier launched a 3 that could have cut the lead to seven, but Ingram blocked it, drew a foul driving, and hit two free throws for a possible five-point swing.
Ingram hit seven of his last eight free throws to help protect the lead.
With two minutes left, Georgia’s Tyree Crump drew a flagrant foul. Key hit both from the line.
See a pattern?
After Bama built its lead to 77-58 with just over a minute left, Pearson called off his foulers. Key then drained his third 3.
Alabama led for 37:17 of the 40 minutes. The Tide bench outscored Georgia’s 29-19. “We think we’ve got a pretty solid eight-man rotation,” Johnson said.
Bama out-rebounded the Dogs 40-27. “They were more physical than us, and they wore us out on the boards from the start,” Fox said. “They whupped our front line in the paint, scoring it and rebounding it. Give Alabama’s players credit for that.”
Johnson didn’t care that his starting center failed to score. He liked the 11 boards, and said, “Donta (Hall) was trying to be aggressive. He was a bolt on the rim, even if he wasn’t an engine (scoring).
“Everybody played their role.”
Next up for Bama (12-7, 5-2 SEC, including three SEC road wins) is a home tilt with Mississippi State (13-6, 4-3) Saturday at 5 p.m. CST. The SEC Network will televise the game. Georgia fell to 12-8, 4-4.