TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Ronald Steele lacked his typical quickness on drives to the basket and was a little sore.
But sitting on the bench had hurt a lot more.
Jermareo Davidson had 22 points and Steele’s return from knee problems provided a spark for No. 6 Alabama in a 78-60 win over Tennessee State on Saturday.
Steele finished with 12 points and five assists, setting up easy dunks for his teammates after sitting out the past two games with tendinitis in his right knee.
“I was really excited to get a chance to play,” Steele said. “Sitting out those two games was torture for me. I was in a little pain, but as the game went along I got better.”
Even with Steele, the Crimson Tide (7-0) still had a tough time shaking the Tigers (2-3). Alabama used a 29-8 run starting late in the first half to turn a three-point lead into a 55-31 cushion.
Tennessee State had cut the gap in half when Larry Turner scored with 6:48 to play. Then, Steele drove and dished to Davidson for an easy dunk to end the rally.
“We get that extra boost for him,” Davidson said. “He seemed pretty happy. He felt like it was his first game.”
Steele only attempted one basket inside the 3-point range. He was 4-of-7 from long range, though.
“I’m still not as explosive as I normally would be,” Steele said. “I’ll still have to rely on my 3-point shots until I get that back.”
Mykal Riley added 14 points and was 4-of-6 from 3-point range for Tennessee, which was 9-for-15 on 3-pointers. Alonzo Gee scored 11 points. Davidson had eight rebounds, his first game without reaching double digits in both points and boards this season.
He wasn’t the only Alabama player struggling to grab rebounds. Tennessee State collected 19 offensive boards and outrebounded Alabama 38-34.
Those numbers muted Tide coach Mark Gottfried’s pleasure at getting Steele back.
“It seems like we can get one area in our game better and then we struggle in another,” Gottfried said. “It’s like putting your finger in a dam. We’ve got to get it all together at the same time.”
Alabama also struggled Tuesday night against Louisiana-Monroe, actually trailing early in the second half of a 75-61 win. Alabama plays its first game on an opponent’s home court Thursday at Notre Dame.
“I’m never disappointed in winning and never will be,” Gottfried said. “But I think we can play a lot better than we’re playing.”
Clarence Matthews led Tennessee State with 17 points. Moraye Ivy had 15 points, Ladarious Weaver had 12—all in the second half—and Turner had 10 points and 11 boards.
Steele’s passes set up a breakaway dunk and an alley-oop in the first half, and his second 3-pointer pushed the Tide’s lead to 43-28 in the final minute before the Tigers finished with a basket in the final seconds.
Alabama cooled off after making 15 of 24 baskets in the first half, but still shot 55 percent for the game.
Tennessee State shot 34 percent, including just 5-for-23 from 3-point range.
“Our young people showed lot of guts and a lot of heart,” Tennessee State coach Cy Alexander said. “What we didn’t do very well was shoot the ball from the perimeter. If we make some of our outside shots, I think there’s possibly a different outcome.”