Jan. 11, 2009
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The University of Alabama basketball team (11-4) earned a hard-fought victory in its Southeastern Conference opener with a 65-59 win over LSU (12-3) at Coleman Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Sophomore Senario Hillman scored the Tide's final nine points and knocked down 7-8 free throws in the final minute to put the game away.
"It was just a gutsy win," head coach Mark Gottfried said. "I thought Senario Hillman took the game over in the second half and did so many things well. I thought in second half, defensively, we weren't nearly as good as we were in the first half. Part of that was because Tasmin Mitchell played, and he is such a tough match up as an interior player for our guys. Bottom line is that we dug down and found a way to win."
Alabama never trailed in the game, but LSU made things interesting down the stretch cutting the Tide lead to 56-54 on a Chris Johnson jumper with 3:32 left. However, on the Tigers next possession Hillman came up with a huge steal and transition dunk to push the lead back to four points and regain the momentum for the Tide.
"I knew I had to get the momentum going for the team," Hillman said. "I knew I had to get at least one steal to get everybody going. I felt like I needed to make something happen to get us going because we were kind of sluggish, so I went for the steal and was able to finish with a dunk."
After the Johnson bucket Alabama's defense stiffened, holding LSU without a field goal for more than three minutes until Bo Spencer made a deep three with 0:ll remaining to make it a 61-59 game. Alabama got the ball inbounds, and Hillman sank his final four free throw attempts to seal the victory.
Hillman led all scorers and set a career-high with 24 points on 8-18 shooting from the field. The sophomore guard put up 20 points in the second half alone. Senior Alonzo Gee posted his third double-double of the year with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Gee has now scored in double figures in 13 straight games.
Alabama held a huge advantage over LSU at the free throw line. The Tide earned 36 free throw attempts, converting 23, compared to LSU who only made six of 10 shots from the charity stripe.
The Tide shot 38 percent from the field for the game, while LSU used a hot-shooting second half to shoot 44 percent on field goals. Alabama's defense forced the Tigers into 17 turnovers.
Alabama took a 30-24 lead into the halftime break. Gee and sophomore Justin Knox got the Tide off to a fast start scoring Alabama's first eight points. The Tide defense kept the Tigers in check, holding LSU to 31 percent shooting and forcing eight turnovers in the first frame. Gee scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds prior to intermission to lead the Tide.
LSU's Marcus Thornton led the Tigers with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds. Johnson narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds.
The Crimson Tide travels to Starkville, Miss. to battle the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Wednesday, Jan. 14. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.