By Gabriel DeArmond Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Davon Ingram rescued Alabama from its worst offensive half of the season on Wednesday night in Columbia, Missouri. Ingram capped a 16-2 Alabama run to erase an eight-point Missouri lead and carry the Crimson Tide to a 57-54 win over the Tigers.
“I thought he had that look in his eyes even this morning at shootaround,” Avery Johnson said. “We needed every bit of his production tonight. It was good for him to have this type of game.”
Missouri’s last best chance ended when Russell Woods airmailed a jump hook with 10.4 seconds left. Braxton Key missed the front end of a one-and-one a couple of seconds later, but Donta Hall collected the rebound and Ingram made two free throws with 3.2 seconds to go. Terrence Phillips’ half court heave bounced off the iron at the buzzer and the Crimson Tide survived.
The win moved Alabama to 15-10 overall and 8-5 in the Southeastern Conference. Ingram led the way with 18 points and nine rebounds. Mizzou fell to 7-18 and 2-11. But Johnson wasn’t downplaying a victory over a Tiger team that has lost 41 of its 49 league games over the last three seasons.
“I think people will say, ‘Well, coach, why are you so excited about this win?” Johnson said. “It’s not just the win tonight. It’s the way we won.”
Alabama overcame a dreadful first half behind an early second half charge from Riley Norris. Norris scored seven of his nine points in the first nine minutes of the half and the Crimson Tide drew even at 35. But Russell Woods and Jordan Geist scored on back-to-back possessions to push the Tigers back in front and ignite a 10-2 Missouri run.
Alabama answered that run with a 16-2 spurt of its own. After a controversial call gave the Crimson Tide the ball out of bounds in a tie game, Ingram hit back-to-back three-pointers to put Alabama up 53-47.
“You can say what you want about the call, but we gave up back-to-back threes,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I thought he was the difference in the game. Whenever they needed a shot, he made a shot.”
After the Tigers closed to within two points with 2:30 to play, Ingram came up big again with a driving bucket from the left side of the lane to put the Crimson Tide up two possessions.
The comeback erased Alabama’s most miserable offensive half of the season. The Crimson Tide made just 5-of-24 shots and went 2-for-12 from three-point range in the first half. Alabama had more turnovers (7) than field goals (5) in the opening 20 minutes, but stayed within striking distance because Missouri was not a whole lot better offensively. The two teams combined to score just 41 points before the break and Missouri led 23-18, despite holding the Crimson Tide without a field goal for 10:38 during one stretch.
“We missed too many layups,” Johnson said. “I think it was five, six or seven layups in the first half that were all makable. But give them credit. They put a lot of pressure on us. They don’t allow you to just drive down the lane uncontested.”
Johnson said the Crimson Tide scrapped the offensive game plan at halftime against Missouri’s zone defense and went to a more man-to-man offensive approach. Alabama shot 48.3 percent and out rebounded Missouri 21-13 in the second half.
“He was calm. He just told guys shots will fall, just stick with it,” Braxton Key said of Johnson’s halftime message. “Play good defense, run more and get out in transition and get easy baskets to get us going.”
The adjustments and the maturation of Ingram allowed for a pleasant trip back to Tuscaloosa.
“We wasn’t executing on offense in the first half. We just wanted to keep playing defense and go down and score,” Ingram said. “Coach Avery tells all of us if we’re open, step up to it and shoot it with confidence. That’s what I did.”
“I’m really proud of Dazon,” Johnson said. “He’s had some rough games this year, but he keeps getting better and better and better.
“He’s coming. I’m proud of the way he not only played offensively tonight, but his defense.”
The Crimson Tide completed a season sweep of Missouri. Alabama won the first matchup between the teams, 68-56, in Tuscaloosa on January 18. Up next is a Saturday afternoon game in Tuscaloosa against LSU. Those Tigers have lost 12 straight and are in last place in the SEC.