And, for a half at least, the Tide did the damage with three-pointers, an Achilles Heel all year.
“I think (the early three-point barrage) was great, because our guys have worked so hard in practice,” said Alabama Coach Anthony Grant. “We spent a lot of time this week on execution offensively. I think it was a great effort we gave tonight on both ends.
“We’re excited about the win, and it’s a huge victory for a lot reasons. We needed the win going into the holiday break, and we were able to do it without our best player, JaMychal Green. Obviously, those are some big shoes to fill. We had a lot of guys step up.”
Junior forward Tony Mitchell said he could get used to his team nailing treys. “It feels good but when we got those shots, it came from our defense,” he said.
Grant added, “Playing against a team the caliber of Oklahoma State, I thought our guys came out and had force. We were aggressive offensively. We came out and set the tone defensively. Playing without JaMychal is not something we like to do, but I’m really proud of the way our guys responded.,”
In the final 20 minutes, the Tide turned to it’s floor general to bring it home on the winning side. Sophomore point guard Trevor Releford scored 19 points, 15 in the second half, to pace the Tide.
Mitchell added 16, and true freshman Trevor Lacey scored 12.
Le´Bryan Nash led the Cowboys (6-5) with 17 points.
Oklahoma State narrowly out-rebounded Alabama, 37-36.
Green sat out the contest with tendonitis in his shoulder. True freshman Lacey got his first collegiate start, as Grant went with three guards -- Releford, Lacey, and true freshman Levi Randolph (eight points) and two forwards (Mitchell and true freshman Nick Jacobs).
Lacey started strong, with a trey and an old-fashioned three-point play while the Tide raced to a 16-2 lead, forcing a time-out by Cowboys’ Coach Travis Ford. Ford had seen the tape and read the scouting report, and when the Tide got three-pointers early from Randolph, Lacey and Mitchell the plans had changed.
“Give Alabama credit,” Ford said. “They played like I hadn‘t seen them play, especially shooting three-pointers. They played good defense on us, and played at a higher level than we played..”
Ford knows all about the trey, as he canned plenty of bombs during his playing days at Kentucky.
Not wanting to be left out Cooper drained a deep three-pointer as the shot clock expired with two minutes left in the half to give the Tide a 38-22 lead. With under five seconds to go before intermission, Releford drove for a lay-in to give Alabama a 40-22 halftime advantage. Bama shot .571 from the floor and .667 behind the arc (6-9) in the first 20 minutes.
At game’s end, those numbers were down dramatically to 46.4 per cent from the field, and .464 behind the arc (7-15).
“We knew coming into practice what we needed to do to get this win, and that was to play good defense,” Mitchell said. “That’s what we did. We had a little defensive lapse that we need to patch up and work on when we get back to practice, but overall, we did a pretty good job,.”
In the second stanza, the Cowboys (6-5) rallied to close to within ten at the 11-minute mark, but Releford answered with an “and-one“ to quell the rally. Randolph then stole the ball and fed Mitchell for a dunk and 54-39 lead with 9:30 left. At the six-minute mark, the ‘Pokes pulled to within nine before Lacey answered with a long two-point jumper.
“I had to shoot it,” Lacey said. “The shot clock was going down, and Coach (Grant) said, ‘Go,’ so I had to shoot it.”
At the 1:42 mark, Lacey fed Mitchell for a two-hand monster jam, and a 67-50 lead to ice the win.
Alabama (9-3) will host Jacksonville (Fla.) on Thursday, Dec. 29 at 8 p.m.CST. The game is set to be televised by CSS, and tickets are on sale for $5 each.