TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Alabama found a way to cool down Darrel Mitchell and No. 24 LSU.
The Crimson Tide’s man-to-man defense consistently disrupted the Tigers’ offense and Ronald Steele went 6-for-6 from the free throw line over the final 1:52 en route to a 67-62 victory on Saturday.
With the win, Alabama (12-8, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) kept the last team without an SEC loss from stretching its West Division lead to a comfortable four games.
It also halted a seven-game winning streak for the Tigers (15-6, 7-1), who were off to their best league start since going 17-0 in 1980-81. The game didn’t change Tide coach Mark Gottfried’s opinion of the division frontrunner.
“I’m not sure there are 15 teams that are better than them,” Gottfried said. “So we feel really good about our win.
“Our guys stepped up and we had some big defensive stops at key times. Collectively, defense won the game for us.”
Particularly against Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas. Guarded mostly by Jean Felix, Mitchell had 14 points but his three-game spree of scoring at least 24 was halted. Thomas had just four points, 10 below his average.
“We never really got ourselves into a rhythm on offense,” LSU coach John Brady said. “It seemed like to me we were always struggling offensively to get something accomplished.”
Steele provided most of Alabama’s offense down the stretch, scoring 12 of his 21 points over the final 8 minutes. He took over a game that had seen five lead changes and two ties over a 5-minute stretch midway through the second half.
Steele, who is 32-of-34 from the line in SEC games, gave Alabama its biggest lead at 64-58 on two free throws with 1:05 left. Tasmin Mitchell had a 3-pointer over two Tide defenders bounce up and in 15 seconds later.
Alabama ran most of the shot clock down but Steele missed an offbalance shot on a drive to the basket. Darrel Mitchell made one free throw with 12 seconds to play but Steele hit two more from the line to clinch it.
“Late in the game, Ron Steele was magnificent,” Gottfried said. “He’s such a clutch guy. He finds a way to will his team to victory, that’s the best way to put it.”
Added Brady: “If there was one guy that was going to beat us, he was going to be the guy. He got by us a little bit and he got to the goal. He didn’t make many baskets but he got to the line. That was a key for them.”
The Tigers entered the Top 25 for the second time this season on Monday, and the visit might be short-lived. Alabama, meanwhile, had been 0-for-3 against ranked teams.
Felix was 4-of-7 from 3-point range and had 15 points for the Tide. Jermareo Davidson had 13 points and three blocks for Alabama, which was 10-for-28 from the field in the second half.
Glen Davis led LSU with 18 points and 11 rebounds and one fashion statement — the black tights he wore under his uniform. Tasmin Mitchell had 14 points. Darrel Mitchell added six assists and four steals for the Tigers but was 4-of-13 from the field.
Thomas was 2-of-8 from the field and had eight rebounds, nearly two below his league-leading average.
“The main thing was just being physical with him,” said Alabama’s Richard Hendrix, who had eight points, seven boards and four blocks. “We knew he was a bigtime athlete.”
With the loss, Davis might not keep wearing those tights, which he wore because of a sore knee. Alabama students greeted him with jeers of “ballerina” early in the game.
“I was watching the NBA and the announcers said LeBron James put on tights because of his knee,” he said. “I talked to the trainer and he said, ‘Yeah, it’ll help you warm your knee up and feel better.”’
The first half ended much more dramatically than the game. Brandon Hollinger punctuated a seesawing first half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner to give Alabama a 37-35 lead. It was his only basket of the game.