Clutch free throws help Alabama close out Murray State


Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

Poor free throw shooting plagued Alabama last season. The Crimson Tide only shot 67 percent from the charity stripe, which ranked it 310th in the country.

But on Monday night, Alabama sunk several clutch free throws down the stretch to hold off Murray State in a 78-72 win in Coleman Coliseum.

“That was very important,” Alabama guard John Petty Jr. said. “Every day in practice we take at least 30 minutes after practice and coach makes us shoot like 100 something free throws.”

Practice makes perfect. Well, nearly. Alabama converted 11-of-14 free throw attempts in the second half.

The Crimson Tide’s win spoiled a dazzling 38-point performance from Murray State’s Ja Morant, who garnered an ovation from Alabama fans after the game was already in hand.

It took more than just free throws to overcome Morant’s spectacular showing. It also required a second-half scoring outburst from freshman point guard Kira Lewis Jr. Lewis finished with a team-high 20 points, 17 of which came after the break. He was 6-of-13 from the field and made 7-of-10 free throws.

Lewis wasn’t a one-man show like Morant, however. Petty added 16 points of his own, and he did so while shooting 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Once he realized his shot wasn’t falling, Petty did most of his damage at the basket by making backdoor cuts.

“I know Kira (Lewis), Herb (Jones), Dazon (Ingram), when they all drive they draw a lot of attention so I just always seemed to slip and they gave me the ball so that was one of the emphasis coach pointed out on film when we watched it,” Petty said.

Although Alabama emerged with the win, coach Avery Johnson wasn’t pleased with the way his team took care of the ball.

“Tonight, obviously we weren’t very sharp in terms of taking care of the basketball. Our ball security was poor, didn’t have as many two hand catches and two eyes that we needed to secure the ball, spacing was bad,” Johnson said.

Alabama accumulated 21 turnovers in the game, which kept the Crimson Tide from shutting the door on the Racers late in the second half. Ball security is one area that will need improvement when Alabama travels to Orlando to take on the University of Central Florida on Thursday. It’s a revenge game, since Alabama fell to UCF at home last season.

With its win over Murray State, Alabama improved to 5-1 on the season.

“Overall I’m proud of the ways our guys fought through adversity to finish another game against a really good NCAA-tournament caliber team,” Johnson said.