John Petty says he couldn’t be more excited about Tuesday night because he is returning to “a gym full of love.”
Petty, a star at Mae Jemison High School in Huntsville, and now a sophomore starter for the University of Alabama men’s basketball team, is one of three players returning to familiar territory as UA takes on the Liberty Flames in the Von Braun Civic Center in what has become an annual trip for the Crimson Tide. Senior Riley Norris is from Albertville, about 45 miles from Huntsville, while freshman Kira Lewis played at Hazel Green High School in Madison County, just up the road from the VBCC.
“It’s a gym where I have a lot of great memories,” Petty said. “It’s a gym full of love, a gym full of energy. They have great crowds and I am excited to be going back home.”
“We get great crowds there, really enthusiastic crowds,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
Alabama could use the crowd energy tonight, although it snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over Arizona before a 9-day break for final exams.
Liberty is 9-2, losing two road games to Power Six conference opponents Vanderbilt and Georgetown but dominating lesser opposition. That includes a 78-52 victory over Georgia State, a team that erased a 22-point deficit and defeated Alabama on its home court earlier this month. In its victory over the Panthers, Liberty shot 52 percent from behind the 3-point line.
“The first challenge is that looks are deceiving,” Johnson said at his Monday press conference. “What happens with Liberty is this. Their guards are smaller guys — 160 pounds, 170 pounds — but they make shots. They can handle the ball and shoot better than any group of guards than we’ve played all season.”
The Flames rank in the top 50 in NCAA statistics in all three shooting categories: 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw shooting. Scottie James, a 6-foot-8 center who shoots 75 percent (33 of 44) from the floor, leads Liberty at 12.8 points per game but three other Flame starters average in double figures.
Dazon Ingram, who injured his lower back going after a loose ball in the Arizona game was practiced, “made it through about 80 percent” of the Crimson Tide’s Monday practice and is expected to be a game time decision for the Liberty contest.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 295-722-0225