Playing on the road in the Southeastern Conference minus one injured starter and its best player having a poor game by his standards, the Alabama basketball team faced an uphill climb Saturday night.
With forward Donta Hall missing the game and guard Collin Sexton struggling to get anything going, it didn’t look good for Alabama against an LSU team coming home off back-to-back road upsets of Texas A&M and Arkansas.
But not even a huge, enthusiastic Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd of 13,600 — the fifth-largest in the current seating configuration — could help LSU, which lost 74-66 to a determined Alabama team that had lost its last two road games.
Alabama fought back from a five-point first-half deficit to take a two-point halftime lead, then outscored LSU 42-36 in the second half to come away with a satisfying win.
The Tigers trailed by 15 with 7:31 to play and mounted a comeback before the game ended in controversy. LSU coach Will Wade was assessed a technical foul with 1:10 remaining right after Tremont Waters’ long 3-point basket cut Alabama’s lead to 66-61.
Sexton knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to 68-61, the Crimson Tide got the ball and managed to survive down the stretch.
Alabama (11-6, 3-2 SEC) persevered and pulled out the win to snap the two-game winning streak that LSU (11-5, 2-2) had cobbled together on the road.
Wade picked up hit his third technical of the season when he accidentally ran into official Gerald Williams while trying to call time out after Waters’ basket, which came 26 seconds after Waters was whistled for a kicked ball at a crucial time on the opposite end of the floor.
“That’s my fault,” a subdued Wade said in his postgame radio show. “I was trying to call timeout, and I ran into him and let him know what I thought about one of his previous calls. That’s my fault; I have to give our team a better chance to win, and I did not do well in those moments.”
Bama didn’t need the help in the second half after coming out and extending its slim lead to nine points just five minutes in on John Petty’s 3-point basket, then stretched it out to 15 with 7½ minutes left.
Even though Hall was sidelined with a wrist injury that required surgery and Sexton, a freshman, suffered through one of the worst outings of his 16-game career, the Crimson Tide overcame all the adversity.
Sexton connected on only 4 of 15 field-goal attempts, going 1 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc while being stifled by a 2-3 LSU zone that used a variety of defenders on him up top. He scored 15 points in 34 minutes.
Sexton, who leads the SEC in scoring with 19.5 points per game, also committed a career-high nine turnovers and fouled out with 23 seconds to play. Waters drew two charging fouls from Sexton in the second half.
Dazon Ingram had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Alabama.
Waters also struggled at times in a duel of two of the SEC’s premier freshman point guards. He was bottled up at times and was just 5 of 13 from the field and finished with 19 points and five assists.
In addition to Waters’ 19 points, Aaron Epps had 14 points and Duop Reath finished with 12 for LSU, which shot just 40.4 percent from the field and was outrebounded 40-24 by Alabama.
Rebounding was one of the first things that Wade talked about after the disappointing loss.
“Our first-shot defense was good,” Wade said. “It all came down to we just got blasted on the backboards. We just weren’t tough enough on the backboards, and at the end of the day that’s what got us beat.
“They killed us in the paint because of the backboards, and their bench came in and scored and really controlled the game. And we didn’t answer the challenge.”
Alabama finished with 36 points to LSU’s 22 in the paint, and the Crimson Tide beat the Tigers 28-11 in bench scoring.
“Our players responded,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “The fans were really into the game, but we kept our composure overall and we just had a much better second half, especially offensively.”