By Daniel Jones
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
COLUMBIA, Mo. — It had been more than 10 months since Avery Johnson Jr. watched one of his 3-point attempts go through the hoop. That streak mercifully ended Wednesday night against Missouri.
Johnson’s second basket of the night was a 3-pointer from the right corner that finally, finally went through. It was his first 3 since Alabama played in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship against Kentucky on March 10. He was 0 for 11 this season entering Wednesday’s game at Mizzou Arena.
“Once I felt that one go in,” Johnson Jr. said, “I knew it was going to be a good night for us.”
Ball don’t lie. Alabama beat the Tigers 70-60, with Johnson Jr.’s 14 points leading the way. That more than tripled his previous season-high of four points (against Murray State on Nov. 26) and surpassed the total from his last nine games combined before Wednesday.
The win broke a two-game losing streak for Alabama (11-5, 2-2 SEC). It was the third straight loss for Missouri (9-6, 0-3 SEC), which entered conference play on a six-game winning streak.
Tide coach Avery Johnson didn’t dance in the locker room like he did after Alabama beat Kentucky to open its SEC slate on Jan. 5. That didn’t mean he wasn’t pleased.
“We’re not going to overdo it,” Johnson said. … “I am awfully proud of our team with their resilience, perseverance, winning a game on the road, and our bench came up big for us.”
All 10 Alabama players that took the floor Wednesday scored at least three points. The Tide’s trusty bench — which averaged 25.6 points in Alabama’s first 15 games — contributed more than 30 points for the second-straight game.
Johnson Jr.’s first 3-pointer of the night didn’t just end a painful drought. It also quieted “The Antlers,” Missouri’s most rabid student group, who chanted “Daddy’s boy” when Johnson Jr. entered the game for the first time.
“Honestly, he’s under the microscope because your the coach’s son. Even the fans tonight, at least I heard that part,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if they were talking to me or Avery Jr.”
This year’s drought has easily been the worst of his career. He shot 31.1 percent from beyond the arc in his first season at Alabama as a redshirt sophomore and followed it up with a 29.9 percent clip last year.
“I’m not really too worried about the 3s,” Johnson Jr. said. “I’m a point guard. I want to get to the rim, dish, create for everybody, play good defense. Threes will come and go.”
Nonetheless, his father caught him putting up jumpers alone in the practice gym Tuesday night around 10 p.m.
“Whatever he did last night carried over into the game,” Johnson said. … “This was the old AJ Jr. He’s had some big games for us. He had 20 points for us in a four-overtime game at South Carolina. He had eight points off the bench for us last year in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a kid that can contribute and he just struggled a bit in the non-conference.”
Donta Hall recorded his eighth double-double of the season, breaking a tie with Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford for most in the Southeastern Conference this year. Hall had 12 points and 11 rebounds against Missouri and largely neutralized the Tigers’ best inside threat, Jeremiah Tilmon, who had eight points and seven rebounds. All of Tilmon’s points came in the game’s final 15 minutes.
Alabama led for 35 of the game’s 40 minutes and took the decisive lead on an Alex Reese 3-pointer with 10:19 remaining in the first half. The Crimson Tide led by as much as 10 before halftime as the Tigers struggled through a first-half scoring drought that lasted 5:07.
The Crimson Tide built its 32-26 halftime lead in the post, out-scoring Missouri 20-6 in the paint before the break. They added seven second-chance points on five offensive rebounds in the first half.
Defensively, Alabama forced 11 turnovers — which Johnson was happy to see after forcing just three turnovers in Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M.
“That shows like we didn’t even show up defensively,” Johnson said. … “We extended our defense a little bit more, more deflections, and fortunately we kept them on their heels.”
Three quick Alabama field goals in the second half pushed the lead to 13, its largest of the night. Missouri responded with a 9-0 run, with seven points coming on two possessions thanks to a four-point play by Mark Smith.
The Tide finished with 40 points in the paint and shot 12-of-15 from the free-throw line. It was the third time in the last four games Alabama hit at least 80 percent of its free throws.
The rebounding battle also went the way of the Tide for the 15th time in 16 games this season. Alabama out-rebounded Missouri 37-to-29 and 11 second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds.
Kira Lewis Jr., had nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.
Smith and Javon Pickett led Missouri in scoring with 13 points.
Alabama will have two days until its next game, a tilt Saturday against No. 5 Tennessee in Knoxville. The Volunteers (15-1, 4-0 SEC) have their four conference games by an average of 25 points.
Alabama 70, Missouri 60
Hall 6-10 0-0 12, Lewis 3-7 2-2 9, Jones 2-3 0-0 4, Ingram 2-4 4-4 9, Mack 1-4 1-2 3, Reese 3-7 0-0 7, G.Smith 2-4 0-0 4, A.Johnson 5-10 2-2 14, Petty 2-5 0-0 5, Norris 0-1 3-5 3. Totals 26-55 12-15 70.
Puryear 1-4 0-0 2, Tilmon 3-6 2-4 8, Pickett 6-15 0-0 13, M.Smith 4-11 1-1 13, Geist 4-11 1-2 9, M.Smith 1-1 0-0 3, Nikko 1-1 0-0 2, Santos 1-2 0-2 2, Watson 2-5 1-1 5, Pinson 1-1 0-0 3, Suggs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-57 5-10 60.
Halftime: Alabama 32-26. 3-Point Goal: Alabama 6-18 (A.Johnson 2-5, Reese 1-2, Ingram 1-2, Lewis 1-3, Petty 1-3, Norris 0-1, Mack 0-2), Missouri 7-20 (M.Smith 4-9, M.Smith 1-1, Pinson 1-1, Pickett 1-3, Watson 0-1, Geist 0-5). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Alabama 33 (Hall 11), Missouri 28 (M.Smith 8). Assists: Alabama 9 (Ingram 3), Missouri 10 (M.Smith, Geist 3). Total Fouls: Alabama 15, Missouri 17.