Alabama Topples No. 13 Kentucky, 77-75, in SEC Opener

(MGN)
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Alabama men's basketball team defeated No. 13 Kentucky, 77-75, Saturday afternoon in front of a raucous crowd at Coleman Coliseum. It marked the Crimson Tide's fifth consecutive victory and the first win this season over nationally-ranked opponent.

Junior Tevin Mack led all scorers with a season-high 22 points, including knocking down 6-of-8 three-pointers. Senior Donta Hall recorded his third straight double-double and sixth of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Herbert Jones finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and a career-best six assists without a turnover. Junior Dazon Ingram, who earned his first start of the season, added 11 points, while freshman Kira Lewis Jr. had 12 of his own.

"First, I want to congratulate Kentucky on a hard-fought game," Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. "Secondly, I want to just say, to all our Alabama basketball supporters and fans that showed up and made a bunch of noise today, we can't thank you enough. Our guys poured their hearts out on the floor today. Was it beautiful at all times? No. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. Especially after we got a 10-point lead. But this was a huge win for us. We didn't let (the media) in on it, but we needed to beat Kentucky. We needed to win this game. We talked about finishing the game with one more point than Kentucky. No excuses. We're at home. Yes, some of our fans are out in California, for a good reason. We like that. But, the ones that showed up today, we can't thank you enough for your support and the noise you made. The student section was rocking. A lot of our students came back early for this game. So, just amazing.

"I don't want to overdo it – we didn't win the championship. We haven't played another SEC game yet, but this was huge for our program. I am really proud of our guys and our coaching staff. We worked extremely hard for four days, probably the hardest four-day stretch of practice we've had since we've been here, and it paid dividends for us."

The Tide responded to the energy created by the nearly 13,000 fans in attendance at Coleman Coliseum, helping Alabama (10-3, 1-0 SEC) snap a 10-game losing streak in the series against Kentucky (10-3, 0-1). The contest was close throughout and featured nine ties and 10 lead changes before the Tide built a 11-point second half lead. The Wildcats used pressure defense and timely shots to trim the lead to two, but their final three-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark, giving coach Johnson his 12th win – in 22 total games – against AP Top-25 teams.

The two teams exchanged baskets early on before Alabama used an 8-0 run to take a 32-29 lead with 4:13 left in the half. However, Kentucky would answer by outscoring the Tide by five points the rest of the opening stanza to take a 40-38 lead into the locker room.

Mack hit his first six threes and finished with 20 points in the first half to pace the Tide, while shooting 64 percent (7-of-11) from beyond the arc.

Alabama took the momentum after the break, going on an 8-0 run to take a 46-40 lead just 2:30 in the second half. The score continued to flip back-and-forth with neither side able to make a lead larger than three points.

With the Tide leading 56-53 with 9:31 remaining, Alabama outscored Kentucky 16-8 over the next 6:20 to build its largest lead of the game, 72-61, with 3:11 left to play.

However, the Wildcats would answer with a 12-2 run to make it a one possession game, 74-71, with 30 seconds left in regulation.

After a pair of free throws by Ingram put the Crimson Tide up 76-71, Kentucky scored consecutive baskets to make it a one-point game with four seconds left to play. John Petty Jr. made 1-of-2 free throws on Alabama's ensuing possession and the Wildcats' prayer that the buzzer was not answered, resulting in the final score.

All five Crimson Tide starters ended the afternoon in double-digits for the scoring column, improving the team to 7-1 this season when four or more players score in double figures. Additionally, Alabama had arguably its best defensive effort of the season, holding Kentucky to only 27 percent (5-of-18) as a team from deep and 43 percent (28-of-65) from the field. Alabama on the other hand bested its season average for three-point percentage shooting 44 percent (10-of-23) from beyond the arc.

The Tide also won the battle of the boards for the 12th time in 13 games, outrebounding the Wildcats 40-32 in the contest.

Alabama will continue SEC play this Tuesday, when it travels to Baton Rouge, La., to take on LSU. The game is slated to tip off at 8 p.m. CT and will be televised on SEC Network.