Alabama basketball handles Southern in season opener


Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

It was a season-opener against an opponent his team was expected to handle with ease, but it was a special game for Alabama head coach Avery Johnson.

He was coaching against his alma mater, Southern University, where he set the NCAA record for highest single-season assist average (13.3) and highest career assist average (12). Johnson was even presented with a distinguished alumni award before the game.

The familiarity didn’t stop Alabama from dominating Southern 82-62 behind strong outings from Donta Hall and John Petty Jr, who chipped in 20 and 17 points, respectively.

The Crimson Tide built a lead early behind the sharpshooting of Petty, who drilled four of his six three-point attempts in the first half and finished 5-of-8 from behind the line overall. The friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum continue to benefit Petty, but Johnson wants to see his efficient shooting to travel outside of Tuscaloosa.

“He wants to have a big year, and I think he understands that he has to play well at home, on the road and at neutral-site games,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy that we can run some stuff for on the offensive end. He’s very familiar with our system.”

Several of Petty’s makes came off of assists from freshman Kira Lewis, who got the start in place of an injured Dazon Ingram. The rookie didn’t score until 7:50 was left in the first half, but made his presence known right away by dishing out flashy assists. Lewis fired up the home crowd early by throwing a perfect lob to Hall in transition. It was one of seven assists on the night for Lewis. He finished with six points, five of which came in the second half.

“He knows he’s going to get two people guarding the ball every time he comes off of a screen or if he’s driving to the hole because he’s so fast that nobody can stop him,” Hall said. “Him getting two people on the ball, that brings up an open shot for somebody else.”

Lewis did the passing; Hall did the scoring. The senior big-man exercised his power around the basket, with most of his eight baskets coming in the paint. Hall proved that he’s not satisfied with just dominating around the rim this season, however, when he sunk a fade away midrange jumper to start the game.

Despite the 20-point victory, Alabama fell victim to mistakes that many teams make early in the season. The Crimson Tide finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (17).

“We had our moments, obviously 20 turnovers are not good,” Johnson said. “We had a decent assist-to turnover ratio in the first half, but we didn’t take very good care of the ball.”

Nonetheless, Johnson remains optimistic about the versatility of his offense.

“We want all five of our guys to be a threat, where the defense doesn’t really know where we’re going,” Johnson said.

Alabama will return to the court against Appalachian State in Coleman Coliseum on Sunday night at 6 p.m.