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Alabama 78, Murray State 72: Ja Morant stole the show but Tide earned the win

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Chris DePew Staff
Nov. 26, 2018

Murray State’s Ja Morant lit up the Coleman Coliseum scoreboard with 38 points but Alabama held his teammates in check and gutted out a 78-72 victory.

What did we learn today?: The most important player in a game isn’t necessarily the one who jumps off the stat sheet. Dazon Ingram came off the bench to get most of his nine points at the foul line, committed a ghastly six turnovers and otherwise was little noticed on offense. But on defense the junior was often the only thing preventing Morant, who seemingly scored a point for each NBA scout there to watch him, from blowing up into the Pistol Pete stratosphere. Freshman starter Kira Lewis didn’t have the savvy not to fall for Morant’s moves. Herbert Jones and John Petty didn’t have the raw speed to prevent Morant from blowing right past them. Donta Hall wound up covering the Racers sophomore several times after switches on screens and the results were often unflattering. Ingram however was able to lock in on defense and make Morant, who played all 40 minutes for the second time in three nights, work for whatever baskets he got against him. Furthermore, Morant’s five assists were less than half of his season average and were offset by 10 turnovers.

What was the best part of the game?: Petty clawing his way to 16 points when none of them came from the 3-point line. In his postgame radio interview, Avery Johnson said he saw Petty make more backdoor cuts against Murray State than he had his entire freshman year. The most beautiful example came on a designed play out of the Crimson Tide’s final timeout with less than two minutes remaining and Bama’s lead down to three points. Lewis stepped up through backcourt pressure to advance the inbounds pass then fired a bullet pass to Petty for the reverse layup. The sophomore from Huntsville went 5-for-6 from 2-point range and added seven rebounds, just one behind Jones’ team-leading total. Petty is finally evolving into a consistent scorer, even as the way he gets his points varies from game to game.

Who was the star?: Alabama had evenly balanced scoring in the first half but no one who stepped up to shoulder the load. Lewis changed that in the second half, scoring 17 of his 20 points and going 6-for-9 from the floor after missing all four first-half attempts. He also had three assists and only turned the ball over once in 28 minutes.

What were the biggest concerns?: Like acne on picture day or a car stalling on a first date, Alabama’s turnover outbreaks seem to pop up at the most embarrassing moments. The Tide coughed it up 21 times, which somehow isn’t even a season high after only six games, leading to 31 points for Murray State. And only a third of those turnovers were on steals, meaning the rest are self-inflicted wounds. Three Bama regulars are averaging more than two turnovers per game and three more are averaging at least 1.5. This simply must get fixed before conference play.

What’s next?: Alabama’s first true road game is a revenge matchup with preseason American favorite UCF. The Tide and Knights tip off at 6 p.m. Central Thursday on ESPNU.

Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris

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