Wins don't always have to be pretty, but Alabama is making a habit out of getting ugly ones.
The Crimson Tide (13-7, 5-2 SEC) has developed an identity of a slow starting team that makes halftime adjustments and pulls away in second halves. But Thursday night was the opposite. Alabama used an effective press and smart shot selection to take a 30-23 halftime lead and held Arkansas (12-8, 3-4) to 36 percent shooting in the first half. But the Tide caught a cold in the second half, fell behind, and had to grind to pull out a 59-56 victory over the Razorbacks at Coleman Coliseum.
After a sluggish start, Arkansas came out of the locker room with the halftime adjustments. The Razorbacks were able to move the ball, create driving lanes and get their guys in and finish. And up until the dwindling minutes, Alabama's offense fell stagnant.
"I thought we were in a good rhythm, got a good flow going and then it just stopped," said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant. "It's like we lost a spoke there. We were tired and flat and couldn't get it back."
Grant explained that when his team had opportunities to attack, they didn't, and when they should have been patient, they weren't.
"We didn't do a good job of handling the situation," he said. "But we found a way to win."
Alabama has had to "grind out" recent wins against Tennessee, Texas A&M and Kentucky, and Grant is starting to sound like a broken record in the post-game news conferences when he says his team "found a way to win." The Tide has yet to be at their best this season, but these gritty games shows dedication to playing a full 40 minutes and not a second less.
"It's a good feeing to know that when adversity hits, we can fight through and keep playing," said sophomore guard Levi Randolph.
In the first half Alabama had the edge in the paint, outscoring Arkansas 18-8, but in the second half, Arkansas was able to outscore Bama 22-8. In the first half both teams accounted for 10 turnovers apiece, but in the second, Alabama had 11 while Arkansas only turned it over five times. The Crimson Tide finished the game with a season-high 21 turnovers.
"Their defensive pressure kind of bothered us a little bit, but at the same time, we were kind of careless with the ball," Randolph said.
With the Tide in a second half scoring lull and Arkansas executing its game plan, Randolph hit a three-pointer to tie the game 50-50 with 3:53 to play. At that moment, Bama knew the game wasn't over and the energy in the building changed.
"I thought from that point forward, possession by possession, our guys grinded it out," Grant said. "We made enough plays offensively and made those free throws to get the win."
After Randolph's trey, Alabama made nine out of its final 10 free throws, which proved crucial down the stretch and propelled the Tide to victory. Arkansas' leading scorer B.J. Young (14 points tonight, 16.8 ppg) attempted a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, but the shot fell short.
Up next for Alabama are back-to-back road games: one Saturday against Vanderbilt, then next Wednesday against Auburn. Win those two and the Tide will have a 7-2 conference record by the middle of next week.
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