TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The up-and-down second half to the University of Alabama basketball season reached a new high as the Crimson Tide crushed No. 15 Tennessee 78-50 on Saturday evening.
Junior forward Donta Hall had his fifth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes, while freshman guard Collin Sexton had 16 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes.
The 28-point win was the largest margin of victory over a top-25 opponent since Jan. 18, 2005, when No. 22 Alabama defeated No. 17 Mississippi State, 98-49. The Crimson Tide improved to 5-1 against ranked opponents while possibly taking a huge step toward securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“What an outstanding game we played [Saturday],” said coach Avery Johnson, who called it a “next-level performance.”
“Can we sustain it?”
Tennessee entered riding a six-game winning streak and having won nine of its previous 10. The Volunteers (18-6, 8-4 SEC) were also No. 10 in the RPI rankings listed by the NCAA after winning at No. 24 Kentucky earlier in the week.
“Rough night,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “With this group I didn’t think we could be that bad.
“I didn’t like the way we competed. It was far and away our worst game of the year.”
Previously, Tennessee’s worst defeats were 94-84 to Auburn on Jan. 2 and 85-76 to then-No. 5 Villanova on Nov. 23.
Alabama (16-9, 7-5 SEC) shot 59.3 percent in the second half while building on a 37-27 halftime lead. It was 12-0 in fast-break points and Alabama had better ball movement while notching 15 assists.
The Vols shot 24.1 percent in the second half, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range, and made 1 of their final 13 shots.
Here are three things we learned:
1. Donta Hall is one of the best players in the SEC
Johnson started both bigs again with Hall and junior forward Daniel Giddens. Aided by an early hot start, both were able to sit for a while in the first half and avoid foul trouble.
Hall had a monster game in making 8 of 10 shots, including 7 dunks, to lead all scorers.
“Even when he was bottled up inside, he found a way to get through the cracks,” Johnson said.
Alabama ended up with a 40-35 edge in rebounds and outscored Tennessee 50-18 in the paint.
“When we were running, all sorts of things were open in the paint,” Sexton said. “When we’re running, I think we’re at our best. Donta was big.”
Collin Sexton in transition. FILTHY 🔥 pic.twitter.com/15vBFFEUrc
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 10, 2018
2. Alabama’s shooting is still a little inconsistent
Because it hasn’t been shooting well from the outside, the Crimson Tide emphasized attacking the rim and it paid off in a big way.
But led by freshman guard John Petty, Alabama was 5 for 14 (35.7 percent) in 3-point shooting against Tennessee. Alabama was 7 for 39 (17.9 percent) from beyond the arc the previous two games.
Petty came in 1 for 14 from 3-point range and 2 for 16 overall in his previous three games. He made an early shot from beyond the arc and finished 3 for 4 en route to 14 points and 4 assists.
Alabama made its first 4 shots to never trail and started hot in the second half as well. It also had a scoreless drought lasting roughly 3:30 during the first half and some late-game shooting issues, but mostly after the victory had been secured.
“We came out strong,” Petty said.
3. You don’t want to play Alabama on a Saturday
The Crimson Tide have won five straight games on Saturdays, including three consecutive against ranked opponents. Last week, Alabama won at No. 23 Florida, 68-50, and on Jan. 27 it defeated No. 12 Oklahoma in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, 80-73.
The margin of victory has been, in order, 8, 6, 7, 18 and 28 points.
“The intensity we brought the whole game just rolled over. We had to come back from last game,” said Sexton, referring to a loss at Mississippi State on Tuesday. “We were having fun.”
So was the sellout crowd of 15,383.
“I’m baffled by this to be honest with you, but we got what we deserved,” Barnes said. “What disappoints me are the points they scored in the lane.”