Despite an unruly visitor that wanted to burn the house down, the University of Alabama basketball team escaped with only a slight singe on Monday night.
Murray State’s Ja Morant poured in 38 points in a spectacular performance but Alabama used its superior size and some clutch shooting by freshman point guard Kira Lewis to hang on for a 78-72 win over the Racers.
Morant made 16 of 29 shots and was six of nine from the foul line.
“Nine times out of 10, you see guys on film and when they come in the building, they’re not the same,” said Alabama forward John Petty. “He was the same. He’s exactly what we saw on film — a great player.”
Alabama had just a two-point lead (70-68) with 26 seconds remaining but the Crimson Tide was able to close out the win with 8-of-8 foul shooting down the stretch.
“I tried to explain they have a high-level player that can win the game by himself and the other guys are complimentary and they will scrap,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “Now, they understand what I was telling them.”
The Crimson Tide (5-1) started slowly, falling behind 13-7 in the first seven minutes. But UA answered with an 18-5 run and progressed to a 10-point halftime lead, 39-29.
The Racers (3-1) wiped that lead out almost immediately after coming out of the locker room, starting on a 10-2 run and taking a 44-43 lead on Morant’s layup with 15:19 to play. Lewis hit two clutch jumpers over the next five minutes and Alabama took the lead for good on a Galin Smith layup with 9:10 to go, but the Crimson Tide never had comfortable breathing space.
“We turned the ball over too much,” Johnson said. “Not enough times where we had two eyes on the ball, two hands on the ball. But I am proud of us for overcoming some adversity and beating a very good team.”
Lewis led Alabama in scoring for the second straight game, contributing 20 points and three assists. Petty had 16 points and seven rebounds despite missing all four of his 3-point attempts.
“Give Alabama a lot of credit,” said Murray State coach Matt McMahon. “They made Ja work for everything he got. He had a great game but we should have helped him more. Their size made it tough around the basket.”
Alabama returns to action Thursday night at Central Florida.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.