TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Alabama found the perfect formula for derailing No. 8 Tennessee in the first half: Do just about everything right.
The Crimson Tide made every free throw, shot 76 percent from the floor and used a huge run to build a big lead before coasting to a 92-79 victory over the Volunteers on Saturday.
“You’d like to put some magic potion on your team and have them play like that every game,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said.
With Ronald Steele’s shooting, ballhandling and passing and a 28-for-30 performance from the foul line, the Tide (15-9, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) had little trouble ending the Vols’ eight-game winning streak.
Steele had 22 points and nine assists.
Tennessee (19-4, 10-2) failed to even make it interesting after trailing by 16 points at halftime despite Chris Lofton’s accurate shooting. The Vols were trying to win nine straight in the league for the first time since 1981-82 and equal their quickest trip to 20 wins.
Instead, the Tide managed a big boost to its NCAA tournament and SEC West Division title hopes by only allowing Tennessee to sporadically employ its normally devastating full-court press and by dominating inside.
“Every time a team comes in our place, we expect to win,” said Richard Hendrix, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. “We don’t really try to look at rankings. We come in here and we expect to win every game. We did that today.”
Alabama placed five of its seven scholarship players in double figures in beating Tennessee for the seventh straight time.
Jermareo Davidson and Hendrix both had double-doubles inside. Davidson had 17 points and 14 rebounds while Alonzo Gee scored 14 points and Jean Felix 12.
The Tide apparently heeded Gottfried’s pre-game charge to be aggressive against the Vols’ defense.
“They want to create chaos,” Steele said. “They want you to panic and turn the ball over. He really wanted us to attack the basket, don’t settle for just quick 3s.
“Overall we did a good job attacking the rim.”
Lofton scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half. He went 6-of-8 on 3-pointers, virtually all of them contested and well behind the arc.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a whole lot of people in this arena shoot the ball like Chris Lofton can shoot it. My goodness,” Gottfried said.
Andre Patterson added 15 points for the Vols while C.J. Watson had 13 and JaJuan Smith 11.
Lofton is 29-of-41 on 3-pointers in the past four games, but this time his hot shooting wasn’t nearly enough.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said there’s a reason the Vols at times have trouble getting him the ball against opposing defenses.
“They hold him the whole time. Both hands on him,” Pearl said. “It’s really hard for him to get open. That’s an issue we’re really going to have to look at.
“If you put a camera on him, I think every time down the floor he’d be held.”
Alabama made its first 18 free throws and could do little wrong in the first half. The Vols couldn’t cut the 57-41 halftime deficit below 14 points until the final minutes.
Lofton’s assessment of the game was succinct: “They really killed us.”
“They were on fire in the beginning,” he said. “They made shots and that stopped our fastbreak. We’ve got to play better defense.”
The Tide scored 14 consecutive points en route to a 29-7 run, building a 50-30 lead that even fast-scoring Tennessee could only chip away at.
Alabama was 19-of-25 from the field in the first half, including 6-of-10 on 3s. The Tide also had four dunks and only allowed Tennessee to grab 10 rebounds.
The Vols barely managed to uncork their full-court press in the half. They did use it to cash in on three quick baskets to whittle a few points off the lead, including both of Lofton’s first-half 3s.
The Tide even had some good luck at the end. With 3.4 seconds left, Evan Brock launched a full-court inbounds pass to Davidson. Ryan Childress was called for a foul trying to keep the ball out of his hands and Davidson hit two free throws.
Alabama controlled the tempo for most of the game despite committing 19 turnovers and making only 6-of-19 3s.
“We wanted to take advantage of an opportunity if it was there,” Gottfried said. “We didn’t want to just make the game an absolute helter-skelter, run-up-and- down. But we didn’t want to turn opportunities down either. And we had a bunch of them.”