South Carolina got off to a fast start on Saturday night, but it was only primary.
The Alabama Crimson Tide trailed by double digits before the crowd settled in its seats but, despite the absence of starting forward John Petty, found a way with the remaining players on the roster, rallying for a 90-86 win over the visiting Gamecocks and pulling back to .500 (8-8) in SEC play.
“I told our guys this was a game that would reveal a lot about our character,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said.
In the absence of Petty, Alabama redshirt freshman Javian Davis stepped up with the best game at UA. He scored a career-high 20 points and had 10 rebounds. He also drew nine fouls and went to the line 15 times, making 11 of those, including the decisive foul shot that gave Alabama a four-point lead with four seconds remaining.
South Carolina had a chance to tie the game on its previous possession, but A.J. Lawson missed a 3-point shot, which Davis rebounded.
“I like being physical,” Davis said. “I just decided I was going to be aggressive, to be that dog for our team tonight.”
Alabama’s tendency to start slowly at home stuck again as the Crimson Tide failed to score a field goal in the first five minutes, falling behind 12-1 before Shackelford finally broke the drought with a layup at the 14:48 mark.
Alabama still trailed 20-8 when Oats drew a technical foul that seemed to provide a spark for the Crimson Tide.
“I think it did,” said Kira Lewis, who led all scorers with 25 points. “Our coach was out there fighting for us so we felt like we had to fight for him.”
UA (16-13, 8-8) promptly went on a 13-3 run to pull within two points and finished erasing the early deficit when a Lewis layup tied the game at 30-30 with 6:51 remaining in the half.
South Carolina regained a six-point lead, 56-50, with just over 15 minutes to play but UA responded with a 10-0 run then held on with solid foul shooting and big drives by Lewis and Jaden Shackelford (18 points).
South Carolina coach Frank Martin praised the Alabama guards but had few accolades for his own team.
“I learned from my old high school coach that if you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say too much and I don’t have very much positive to say about our team tonight.
“You think anyone on our team has ever heard of taking a charge? Maybe when someone drives at 100 miles per hour from halfcourt, you could step in front of them but we didn’t. Kira beat us all night long.”
Alabama’s ability to attack the basket helped UA to get to the foul line frequently, where it went 33 for 47.
Herb Jones, playing a full 40 minutes, had 10 points and nine rebounds for UA. Keyshawn Bryant led South Carolina (17-12, 9-7 SEC) with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter, @cecilhurt