MOBILE, Ala. (AP)—Jermareo Davidson had enough of solitary workouts and off-court heartache.
He dominated in his return to No. 9 Alabama’s lineup, scoring 25 points and flirting with a triple-double in a 77-64 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday night.
“It’s been a pretty tough situation,” said Davidson, who wasn’t allowed to practice with the team all week. “I got a chance to work out but not being able to practice with my team got to me a little bit.
“I was eager to get back on the court and it showed.”
Davidson had 11 rebounds and a career-high nine blocked shots to just miss becoming only the second Crimson Tide player to record a triple-double—Roy Rogers did it twice in a one-week span in 1996.
Davidson had withdrawn from school Dec. 8 after missing too much class time following his girlfriend’s death in a car accident and a serious, unrelated injury to his brother. He missed one game and a week of practice before being allowed to rejoin the team after final exams ended Friday and make the trip south for the Coors Classic game.
Who needs practice?
“He has had such a tough time,” Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. “When he gets on the court and plays, it’s like freedom for him. It’s a time when he doesn’t have to think about anything else.”
Alonzo Gee added 20 points for Alabama (9-1), Richard Hendrix had 11 and Justin Tubbs 10. Davidson was 8-of-13 from the field and 9-of-12 on free throws. He wasn’t aware how close he was to that rare triple-double—though he had seven blocks and seven rebounds by halftime.
“I didn’t know until after the game,” Davidson said.
Southern Miss (7-1) was off to its best start since also opening 7-0 in the 1985-86 season and had won its first seven games—all at home—by an average of 25 points.
The Golden Eagles trailed by as many as 20 points in the final five minutes but cut it to 69-61 on a drive by Sai’Quon Stone with 1:04 left.
But Gee caught a long pass from Hendrix for a quick layup and Justin Tubbs added another one to push the score out of reach.
“I don’t think we backed down one bit against Alabama,” Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. “I thought we were tough, I thought we were very physical. These guys are going to be very, very good before it’s all over.”
Jeremy Wise led Southern Miss with 19 points. Craig Craft and Stone added 11 apiece.
The Golden Eagles came in averaging 80 points and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. They couldn’t come close in either category and shot 31 percent.
Alabama shot 51 percent and hit 20 of 25 free throws in the second half.
Davidson scored the Tide’s final six points of the first half for a 38-20 halftime lead. Alabama pushed the lead as high as 20 points twice, the last time at 66-46 with 4:51 left.
Point guard Ronald Steele only played the first 4 minutes for Alabama, still hobbled by ankle and knee problems. His sub, Brandon Hollinger, had six assists but Alabama committed 18 turnovers.
“Without him out there, we were a little out of synch at times, but other guys are stepping up and doing what it takes to win the game,” Gottfried said.
Especially Davidson, who came out fired up. He hit his first three shots and blocked three on the other side in the first 7 minutes, pumping his chest and screaming.
He didn’t think he approached the game any different than usual.
“I expect myself to play big every night,” Davidson said. “It just all came together a little better than usual.”
It was Alabama’s third appearance in the Coors Classic hosted by South Alabama, where Gottfried’s father, Joe, is athletic director. Mississippi beat South Alabama 82-72 in the first game.
The teams hadn’t met since 1996. Alabama holds a 19-5 lead in the series.