HUNTSVILLE | If the heavy punch at the end of the first half didn’t finish off Belmont on Saturday, the one to start the second half did.
Alabama had six scorers in double figures and turned what was expected to be a close game into a 92-72 win over the Bruins in the Rocket City Classic, a performance that Alabama coach Nate Oats called “our best of the year so far.”
The Crimson Tide trailed 32-26 with five minutes remaining in the first half but closed on a 20-6 run and opened the second half with an identical 20-6 run to take a commanding 66-44 lead with 12 minutes to play. Belmont coach Casey Alexander credited that 40-12 stretch to Alabama’s defense.
“They did a great job on (Belmont leading scorer Adam) Kunkel, face-guarding him, denying him the ball,” Alexander said. “Teams at our level don’t do that because our other guys can score. But Alabama closes better and quicker. That’s just their athleticism and good coaching.”
“The better our defense is, the better we are going to be,” Oats said. “We’ve come in with a system where we want to play fast but the best way to play fast is to get your defense great. You are going to look a lot better running in transition when you are running off turnovers and rebounds than when you are taking the ball out of the net and going against a set defense.”
Kira Lewis, playing in front of his hometown fans, had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds while committing just one turnover.
“I told Kira that he hadn’t looked like he was having fun playing basketball for about a month,” Oats said. “I just told him to go out today and have fun.
“When your point guard has eight assists and only one turnover in 35 minutes, it’s usually going to be good.”
Freshman Jaden Shackleford led Alabama with 16 points. Herbert Jones, like Lewis, had a boxscore-filling line with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. John Petty, also in a Homecoming game, had his second double-double of the week with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Alex Reese added 13 points, all in the second half.
Nick Muszynski led Belmont (8-4) with 17 points.
Alabama (6-5) will take a break for Christmas and return to play Richmond on December 29.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt