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January 29, 2011TUSCALOOSA _ Saturday night, the spark was lit was by sophomore guard Ben Eblen.
Helping turn it into an inferno was sophomore forward Andrew Steele.
No longer showing the signs of struggle that plagued the University of Alabama men's basketball team during the first half of the season, the Crimson Tide had a near-complete performance in the second half against LSU, rallying for a crushing 70-46 victory before a rare sellout crowd at Coleman Coliseum (15,383).
Statistically the game wasn't even that close, as Alabama had a staggering 43-24 advantage in rebounds. It was also better in the paint (43-16), off turnovers (20-7), second chances (19-5) and fast breaks (7-0), and went more than 16 minutes without a turnover, from 7:48 remaining in the first half to 11:25 in the second when the game turned into a rout.
"Well I thought our defense really set the tone of the game," Coach Anthony Grant said.
"I'm proud of our guys as they remained patient and undisturbed. The defense was carrying us through the first half and I knew if we continued to defend we would have some opportunities in transition and get some easy baskets and I thought that's what we did in the second half."
Did the Tide ever. With junior forward JaMychal Green pacing Alabama with 20 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore forward Tony Mitchell right behind him with 14 points, it went a 24-4 run that let Grant empty the bench for the final minutes.
The initial spark, though, occurred with 11:23 to go in the first half after Eblen lost the ball and freshman guard Andre Stringer took off with a loose-ball breakaway and appeared to have an easy layup. However, the sophomore caught him on the shot and swatted away the ball.
It was the first block of Eblen's career and combined with an early Mitchell dunk got the crowd in the game.
"In the first half we weren't shooting well, but we only had a seven-point deficit, which we thought would put us in position to make a run, cut the lead down and take control," said LSU freshman forward Matt Derenbecker, who led the Tigers with 13 points. "It was the opposite, they made a run."
With Alabama picking up the pace, more shots starting falling, keyed by Steele's 3-pointer off the bench followed by a short jumper on a pass from senior guard Charvez Davis. At the time the Crimson Tide had yet to notch a 3 or score any points off the bench.
"It felt like a long time since I have been able to play quality basketball and it feels nice to make a big contribution to our team tonight," Steele said.
From there things only got worse for the overmatched Tigers (10-11, 2-4, SEC), who lost their fourth straight game and by a combined 111 points. When Davis hit Alabama's only other 3 with 9:36 remaining Alabama was coasting, 52-33, and eventually extended its lead to 27 points.
Not even the return of freshman guard Ralston Turner, LSU's leading scorer from Muscle Shoals who missed five games with a stress reaction in his right foot, could help as he had just four points in 20 minutes.
"We've been struggling for about the last two-and-half weeks," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "We have a group that's pretty banged up physically."
The Tigers were also frustrated and when junior forward Malcolm White got overly aggressive with Green under the basket he drew a double technical while fouling out with just six points and no rebounds.
The confusing calls, which led to a delay as officials reviewed and discussed the fouls at length, resulted in Green on the free-throw line and no one exactly sure why.
"I don't know," Johnson said. "You'll have to go ask the stripes. No comment.
"My wife doesn't have Urban Meyer money."
Green was also a bit confused by the situation, but buried both free throws.
"It was just a very physical game," he said. "I just let the emotion get the best of me. I lost my head, my mind, I made a dumb mistake."
Alabama came into the game ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense (57.3 points), second in opponents' first-goal percentage but first in points allowed per possession (0.83) and improved in all three statistics as LSU shot just 37.8 percent (17-45)
"The officials always give calls to the aggressor," Derenbecker said. "They were more aggressive than us."
Alabama remained undefeated at home and improved to 5-1 in SEC play (13-7 overall). Even though Mississippi State upset No. 24 Florida earlier Saturday and Arkansas won at No. 19 Vanderbilt, not to mention Auburn scoring its first SEC win against South Carolina, it will still be atop the SEC West Division heading into Wednesday's home showdown with the Bulldogs.
"It's obviously a great win for our team," Grant said. "Again our defense carried us."