By Austin Bishop / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —
Trevor Lacey drained a long-distance 3-pointer as time expired on Friday night to give the University of Alabama a dramatic 70-67 season-opening win against visiting South Dakota State at Coleman Coliseum.
The Crimson Tide trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half, but in the end it was perfect free throw shooting, strong bench play, and smothering full-court pressure defensively that gave Alabama a chance to win at the end.
The final play of the game was set for Rodney Cooper, but wound up in the hands of Lacey who knocked it down with a defender in his face.
"As soon as it left his hand I knew it was going in," Cooper said. "I was confident he was going to make the shot."
"He made a heck of a play," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said of Lacey's shot.
"It was a big time shot and certainly a great way for us to begin the season."
While the big shot at the end won the game, it was a tough defensive effort that turned the game around.
"Their defense just really took us out of the game offensively," said South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy. "We should have been able to handle their pressure better than we did. We have too many experienced players to play like they are inexperienced."
The Tide victory spoiled an amazing game by South Dakota State senior guard Nate Wolters, who hit on 5-of-6 shots from behind the 3-point arc to pump in 30 points.
"He's a great player and we knew that," Grant said. "I'm just glad we had the ball last."
While Wolters was lighting it up from long range for the Jackrabbits, junior guard Trevor Releford was doing his damage for the Crimson Tide by slicing through the S.D. State defense.
He finished the night with 18 points, most coming on drives to the goal.
"He's like a running back," Nagy said of the 6-foot, 195-pound Releford. "He sees the hole and goes to the goal and you can't get him closed down."
"He's a good player," Wolters said of Releford. "I've seen him play before on TV. He's really quick and hard to guard."
Releford finished the night with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the floor, while knocking down all six of his free throws. As a team, 'Bama was 14-of-14 from the free throw line.
Lacey had a solid night as well, with 15 points, including the game-winner. Rodney Coopery scored 17 points, while Andrew Steele had 11.
Releford and Steele led a tremendous effort by Alabama's bench, which outscored SDSU 33-8.
Former Kemper County standout Devonta Pollard got the start for the Tide and recorded both of his blocks in the first half, but was unable to score in 14 minutes of play.
"He's going to be fine," Grant said. "This was a tough game for a freshman to play his first game in. He gave us some solid minutes (14), but we in this game we just felt the veterans gave us a better chance to win."
Next up for Alabama is a 5 p.m. home game against the University of West Alabama on Sunday.