HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Belmont coach Casey Alexander had done no shortage of homework and video study before his team’s date with Alabama. What he saw in person on Saturday was even more impressive than what he’d seen on-screen.
“I feel like it was as complete a game as they’ve played,” Alexander said following the Crimson Tide’s 92-72 victory over Belmont in the fourth annual Rocket City Classic. “They’re going to build a reputation for the way they play, with their tempo, the way they shoot threes.”
So complete was the Tide's effort that all five starters finished in double figures, with junior guard John Petty collecting his third double-double in five games, with 14 points and 11 rebounds. It was a “homecoming” of sorts for Petty, a Huntsville native whose high school teams earned three consecutive state championships.
Jaden Shackleford led the Tide (6-5) with 16 points. Kira Lewis Jr., another Huntsville native making a homecoming, scored 15 points and had eight assists and seven rebounds. Herbert Jones added 15 points, while Alex Reese scored 13.
Tylor Scanlon led the Bruins (8-4) with 20 points and eight rebounds. Nick Muszynski had 17 points, Adam Kunkel 16 and Grayson Murphy 11.
Alexander’s assessment of Alabama was echoed by Nate Oats, the Tide’s first-year head coach.
“I one-hundred percent agree with him,” said Oats, who credited the Tide’s increasing comfort in his system and the defensive effort in the victory. “Everybody can see it’s coming. The guys are starting to get comfortable with it.”
Trailing by four late in the first half, Alabama sank four 3-pointers – two by Shackleford -- on consecutive trips up the floor in a span of 1:41. That enabled the Tide to take a 46-38 lead at the half. With a 7-0 outburst in the first minute of the second half, punctuated by a resounding Jones dunk, “it was pretty much uphill from there for us,” Alexander said. Alabama was able to stretch its lead to as many as 23 points.
This was Alabama’s fourth consecutive victory in the neutral site Rocket City Classic, and it avenged a two-point loss in the only previous meeting with Belmont, an 85-83 Bruins' win in Tuscaloosa in 2007.
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The Bruins seemed determined to make this a 3-point battle with Alabama, which may have seemed a good idea on paper. Belmont was ranked No. 6 and Alabama No.7 in 3-point shooting. However, Belmont was only 7 for 30 from distance, compared to a 14-for-32 effort for Alabama.
“To me, that’s the game in a nutshell,” Alexander said.
Belmont went on a 19-9 run midway through the first half to erase a big Alabama lead, aided by four costly turnovers, then Oats called a timeout at the 4:59 mark with Alabama trailing 32-26. The Tide got a quick bucket from Jones, then scored on seven consecutive possessions after the four-minute media timeout.
Alabama’s streak of four wins in five games indicates the team is growing more accustomed to Oats’ system, which calls for quicker transitions and aggressive shooting of 3-pointers. The only loss in that stretch was a two-point defeat at Penn State.
Belmont: The Bruins face Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky., on Dec. 28, then dive into Ohio Valley Conference play on Jan. 2 against SIU Edwardsville.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide wrap up nonconference play on Dec. 29, hosting Richmond in Tuscaloosa, Ala., then begin Southeastern Conference play Jan. 4 at Florida.
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