COLUMBIA, S.C. | There is no substitute for effort but a dash of poise makes for a nice complement.
The Alabama basketball team displayed both on Tuesday night, breaking the familiar pattern of second-half fades and instead rallying from a late 5-point deficit to take an important SEC road victory over South Carolina, 68-62.
“We haven’t won games like this,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “We’ve gotten leads and haven’t been able to hold them. So I saw a really energized team out there in the last five minutes.
“Last year, we ended the year with a five-game losing streak. This year, we are older and we wanted to see that maturation sort of take effect. Our guys were battling. You can show this game to a lot of young guys playing basketball and it will show them what playing hard is all about.”
The Crimson Tide, which had led by as many as 13 points in the first half, saw that lead dissipate. Things looked grim when South Carolina’s Tre Campbell hit a 3-pointer to put the Gamecocks ahead 54-49 with 7:15 to play. Starting guard Dazon Ingram was out of the lineup with a quad contusion and other players were battling foul trouble. Instead of fading away, Alabama rallied.
First, Riley Norris and Herb Jones hit consecutive jump shots, tying the score at 56-56 with 5:10 to play. Chris Silva answered with a free throw to put the Gamecocks ahead by one point, but Alabama got two free throws from freshman Kira Lewis and a huge 3-point play by Donta Hall that put UA up by four points. Norris, who had a huge effort down the stretch, then responded with the play of the game, a steal and dunk that gave UA a 63-57 lead with 2:20 to play. Two Alabama turnovers kept South Carolina on life support and a Campbell 3-pointer cut the lead to 63-60 with 41 seconds to play. But the Gamecocks immediately fouled Lewis, who made both free throws. Two more Hall free throws with 19.7 seconds left put the game away for UA.
The game was physical throughout with both Ingram, who Johnson said was “day-to-day”with a bruised thigh, and South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson (ankle) unable to finish the game due to injury.
“We knew they were going to play like that,” said Tevin Mack, who had 11 points, including a critical second-half 3-pointer in his return to his hometown. They are going to bang and foul and make it tough. Our guys did a good job of replicating that in practice.”
Lewis led Alabama with 17 points while Hall recorded another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Silva led South Carolina with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Alabama returns home Saturday to play No. 13 LSU in an 11 a.m. contest.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225