It was questionable whether Alabama freshman Noah Clowney would be able to play the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday night after Clowney suffered a serious leg/back contusion against North Carolina on Sunday. Clowney didn’t just play, he started.
And what a start.
In the first four minutes, the 6-10 forward finished with four three-shots (he had an outside margin between the first three and the fourth).
A first half that featured almost consistent double-digit leads vanished completely in the second half before the Crimson Tide broke away in the closing minutes for a misleading 78-65 win over South Dakota State at the Coleman Coliseum.
“We didn’t want to play like that,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats. “We didn’t play well in the last 8 minutes of the first half and the first 8 minutes of the second half.
“I thought we looked like we still hadn’t recovered from our west coast trip.
“But I also want to give credit to the state of South Dakota. They played at Kent State (in Ohio) last night and then they came in here and they played well.”
The Crimson Tide, ranked 11th in the Associated Press poll and 14th in the Coaches poll, improved his record (if not his game) to 7-1. The Jackrabbits fell back to 3-5.
Alabama returns next Saturday at 2 p.m. on ABC at Houston #1. Bama’s next home game is December 13 against Memphis.
Alabama’s 20-point lead midway through the first half had shrunk to 7 at halftime, down just 42-35. A quick Trey by Brandon Miller gave Alabama a 10-point lead, but it was soon down to 3 as the Jackrabbits opened the second half with an 11-8 run. And shortly thereafter, a three-pointer by Alex Arians had South Dakota State 51 to play Alabama 50 with 11:33.
Bama equalized at 51 with a Clowney free throw – the only tie of the game, and after Nimari Burnett had a putback and one for a 54-53 tide lead, Alabama wasn’t behind again.
It was never comfortable, however, until Clowney finally scored his fifth three at 4:23 – nearly 31 minutes since his fourth – for a 67-58. He was 5-12 on Treys.
Clowney finished with 22 points, with Mark Sears on 19 and Brandon Miller on 16. Clowney also had a team-high 9 rebounds, caught four tackles and had four assists to win the Tide’s Hardhat Award.
Alabama hit 27-68 (40 percent) from the field, including 13-40 (33 percent) with three-pointers and 11-15 free throws (73 percent). The Jackrabbits went 26-61 from the field (43 percent), 6-20 with Treys (30 percent), and 7-11 with free throws (64 percent).
Bama had a 45-37 advantage in rebounds and scored 15 points off boards for South Dakota State’s 8.
Alabama also had the advantage in second chance points, 19-7, and fast break points, 14-0, but the Jackrabbits outplayed the Tide in the suit, 32-28.
Bama had 20 assists against just 10 turnovers, with Jahvon Quinerly coming off the bench and contributing 7 assists.
Oats said Clowney “just practiced a day and played like him, took four loads with his tailbone hurt, says how tough he is.”
After the game, Clowney said: “I was in pain but I was able to play. I got off to a quick start.”
As a matter of fact. Clowney’s quick start wiped out South Dakota State’s only first-half lead, lead (2-0, duration 26 seconds, and with a brief second-half lead, a 1:08 aggregate possession time) and the tide ran to 21 from -8 before the jackrabbits hit double digits. Midway through the first half, Mark Sears hit three threes in under a minute, the last helped by a long backboard, and Bama had a 20-point lead at 37-17.
Clowney would have 14 points and Sears 12 in the first half.
But the jackrabbits didn’t go down a hole. Fueled by Charlie Easley with three Treys and 11 points, the visitors closed out the half with an 18-5 run, and Bama’s lead was just 7 points at 42-35, even with Tide with a 22-15 advantage in rebounds .
TIDE NOTE: The Alabama starters were the same as in all previous games, Charles Bediako at center, Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney at forwards, and Mark Sears and Nimari Burnett at guards.
If Houston retains its number one poll spot through next Saturday, it will be Bama’s second game of the year against the top team after the Tide beat North Carolina 101-103 at last Sunday’s Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
Alabama is on a four-game winning streak against teams that played in last year’s Final Four, 3-0 last year and 1-0 this season.
The Tide is one of five schools in Division I to have two wins against ranked teams this season, with Bama defeating both Michigan State and North Carolina in the PKI. The other four schools with two such wins are Arizona, Creighton, Purdue and Virginia.
In an earlier game Saturday at the Coleman Coliseum, the Alabama women’s team set their record 6-2 with a 61-52 win over UT-Chattanooga.