HUNTSVILLE — If Luverne were somehow a suburb of Huntsville, the Alabama basketball team would have had a perfect script at the Rocket City Classic on Tuesday night.

All three of the Crimson Tide’s players from the area made major contributions and senior Donta Hall of Luverne poured in a career-high 21 points as Alabama defeated Liberty 84-75 at the Von Braun Center. Freshman Kira Lewis of nearby Hazel Green scored 17 points for UA. John Petty, who played at Huntsville’s Mae Jemison High School added 16 and senior Riley Norris of Albertville supplied abundant energy in a 15-minute stint, his longest of the year.

“For us, this is familiar territory,” Lewis said. “We got to play in front of friends and family. It was great.”

Alabama led for much of the first half but could never establish a large working margin. The Crimson Tide was up 34-33 at intermission.

“I can’t tell you what I said at halftime,” Johnson said. “I was somewhat animated. I didn’t feel like our offense was flowing the way I wanted it to. There was too much isolation basketball. The second half was much better.”

Alabama (7-3) started the second half on an 8-0 run — including a pair of Petty 3-pointers —and while it wasn’t the knockout punch, it got Huntsville’s pro-Alabama crowd cheering.

“Come out in the second half and play well to get some energy in the building,” Petty said. “That’s what we needed to do.”

Liberty struggled all night to contain Hall, who made all six of his shots from the floor and went 9-for-11 from the line to record a new career high with 21 points.

“We really challenged Donta this week,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “We showed him film of (Liberty center) Scottie James like James was Hakeem Olajuwon and I think he responded.”

Liberty (9-3) pulled as close as 55-54 with 10:35 remaining but Alabama went on an 10-2 run over the next three minutes to pull away.

In addition to praising his team’s overall effort in the second half, Johnson made a special point of singling out Norris, who defended, dove for loose balls and was a general inspiration after missing much of the season following a surgical heart procedure.

“Forget about the stat sheet,” Johnson said. “Riley Norris was a big part of us winning that game. The guys in the locker room were acting like he had scored 30 points.”

Caleb Homesley led Liberty with 23 points, while James added 20.

Alabama will return to action Friday, hosting Penn State at Coleman Coliseum.

 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

 

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