The University of Alabama men’s basketball team ventured well off the beaten path on Sunday night, but managed to shoot its way out of the woods, defeating Stephen F. Austin 79-69 before a hostile sellout crowd in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Crimson Tide senior Riley Norris hit four 3-pointers, including two crucial baskets in the final stretch as UA was able to hold off a Lumberjack run. Stephen F. Austin trailed by 11 points with eight minutes to play but had cut into the lead and created a one-possession game, 68-65, on an off-balance jumper by Kevon Harris with 5:33 remaining. Norris responded, though, hitting an open 3-pointer to extend the lead to six points with 4:45 to play.
Norris replicated that effort two minutes later. Offensive rebounds gave Alabama two extra opportunities but Norris cashed in those chances with a 3-pointed that put Alabama up 75-67 with 2:36 to play. The Crimson Tide was then able to maintain its lead at the foul line and take its fourth straight win.
“This was a fun game,” said Norris, who missed Alabama’s first eight games after a heart procedure. “It was similar to a Wichita State environment. The fans get going, you can’t hear anything, you can’t hear your coaches so you just have to trust what you’ve done in practice. My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open and I was fortunate to make the shots.
“This was a real big win for us, really big,” Norris added. “We grew up a lot.”
The Crimson Tide started slowly, turning the basketball over six times in the first five minutes and scoring just two points during that span. The inside offense of Donta Hall helped Alabama stabilize its offense and the Crimson Tide took a 43-36 lead at the half.
The Lumberjacks (7-5) never pulled closer than three points in the second half.
In addition to Norris’ 14-point effort off the bench, Hall had a strong double-double performance with 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. Freshman guard Kira Lewis Jr. led the Crimson Tide with 17 points, including seven of eight free throws in the final seven minutes.
Shannon Bowles of Stephen F. Austin led all scorers with 21 points but had just four in the second half.
Alabama will open SEC play on Saturday, hosting Kentucky.