Crawling out of its painful four-game losing streak, the Crimson Tide hammered away at Arkansas from the free-throw line Saturday afternoon. Slipping away with a 72-66 win meant nailing 20 of 25 without defenders while missing all but two of 15 from the perimeter.
Oh, and toss in a little of that high-pressure defense, and Alabama (14-7, 3-4 SEC) found the slump-busting recipe for its 500th win in an antsy Coleman Coliseum.
Struggling veterans Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green broke out of their own respective downturns to spark the final surge against the Razorbacks. The top two offensive threats scored seven straight points late in the second half to give Alabama the lead for good.
Green had 10 of his 14 after halftime while Trevor Releford had a game-high 18. Mitchell chipped in 11 and Andrew Steele came off the bench to score a career-high 11 and dish out six assists — a season high for any Alabama player.
It came down to aggressive play on the offensive end, Steele said.
“I think we took advantage of the way they wanted to guard us a lot of things,” he said. “I think our will to win was a lot greater than it has been in the past. You can tell in our eyes that we were not going to give up because we needed that one.”
The Razorbacks, still winless in six true road games this season, created trouble with its brand of up-tempo defense. The 24 points Arkansas scored off 17 Tide turnovers was the most an Alabama opponent recorded all season.
But the pace also played to the Tide’s liking.
The high-intensity defense Arkansas brought was a flavor similar to Alabama’s preferred style.
“It’s like the defense we see a lot,” Steele said. “Maybe it put people in comfort zones. It allowed us to go out there and make plays, and maybe took some of the thinking out and more reaction. People just played.”
First-half action saw a range of emotions for the Tide. Green, the team’s leading scorer, came off the bench in what coach Anthony Grant called “a personal decision.”
Just over two minutes later, Green picked up a technical foul by reacting to contact from Arkansas’ Devonta Abron. The Razorbacks led by five after the free throws, but the Tide outscored the guests 25-13 to close the first half.
After making 3 of 4 shots from 3-point range in the first five minutes, Arkansas just three of its final 13. Its final field goal of the first half came with 4:57 on the clock as the Tide took a 37-30 lead to halftime.
Arkansas (15-6, 3-3) snatched the lead back with a 10-2 surge early in the second half to start the brief back-and-fourth of match blows.
The final Razorback lead came on a BJ Young put-back with 6:57 left. A five-point outburst in an 11-second span cut the Tide lead to 63-61 with 1:36 left before Alabama made 7 of 8 free throws to close things out.
After questioning the intensity of his players during the four-game losing skid, Grant said he saw improvements “in spots” Saturday afternoon.
“We had guys who really stepped up and really brought the fight,” he said. “They were intent on getting stops and understood from an offensive standpoint we needed to be aggressive and attack and handled the pressure well. That’s ultimately what you want to see.”
The Tide played most of the second half without its top freshman. Guard Trevor Lacey checked out with 16:26 left and never returned. He sat at the end of the bench beyond the walk-ons dressed in sweat suits.
“We just felt like there were some other guys who were doing a good job on the court,” Grant said, denying any reports of a back injury.
Lacey finished with two points — his lowest total since cracking the starting lineup nine games ago.
The Tide now has a full week to prepare for a visit from Ole Miss. The Rebels come to Coleman Coliseum at 7 p.m., next Saturday.