TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Down by 16 points with just over 12 minutes to play, Kansas State closed to within one possession on multiple occasions, including 69-67 with 2:48 remaining, but Alabama held strong at the free throw line to post a 77-74 win in a Big 12/SEC Challenge contest on Saturday before 11,824 fans at Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama (12-7, 4-2 SEC), which won for the fifth time in six outings, was led by a sensational scoring effort from sophomore guard Kira Lewis, Jr., who led five Crimson Tide starters in double figures with a game-high 26 points on 8-of-12 field goals and a perfect 8-of-8 effort from the free throw line.
For K-State (8-11, 1-5 Big 12), it was yet another frustrating loss in close fashion, as the Wildcats led for more 15 minutes in the first half before surrendering the lead moments into the second half. Alabama scored the first 7 points after halftime, which was part of a 23-6 overall run, that gave the Crimson Tide a 59-43 lead with 12:14 to play after a 3-point play from junior Herbert Jones.
With the momentum clearing on the home team’s side before nearly 12,000 fans, K-State went to work on the next possession, as a 3-pointer from senior Xavier Sneed ignited an 18-3 run that closed the deficit to 62-61 on another 3-pointer from junior Cartier Diarra with 6:34 remaining. The Wildcats would have 6 opportunities to either tie it or take the lead down the stretch before the Crimson Tide sealed it at the free throw line.
Alabama connected on 48.8 percent (21-of-43) from the field, including 36.4 percent (8-of-22) from 3-point range, but also took advantage of 28 K-State personal fouls on the night, connecting on opponent season-highs with 27 makes on 37 attempts, as the Crimson Tide scored 15 more points from the line.
Lewis was among five Alabama starters in double figures, as juniors John Petty, Jr., and Alex Reese and freshman Jaden Shackelford each had 11 points, while Jones added 10.
Diarra led the Wildcats with 17 points in his first game off the bench this season, while senior Makol Mawien collected his fourth career double-double with 13 points on 5-of-9 field goals to go with a game-high and career-tying 12 rebounds. Fellow senior Xavier Sneed and freshman Montavious Murphy added 14 and 10 points, respectively. Junior Mike McGuirl scored 7 points in his first game back from missing 3 games due to a concussion.
K-State posted season-highs for both total rebounds (45) and offensive rebounds (22), while its 74 field goals attempted were the most by a Wildcat team in more than 10 years. For the game, the team connected on just 35.1 percent (26-of-74) from the field, including 34.5 percent (10-of-29) from 3-point range, and went 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) from the free throw line.
K-State has now lost six games by 6 points or less this season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Senior Xavier Sneed gave K-State the early advantage with the first of what would be back-to-back 3-pointers on the opening 2 possession, as freshman Montavious Murphy followed moments later for a 6-2 lead. The two teams went back and forth over the next few minutes, including 3 triples by high-scoring Crimson Tide, as the Wildcats took a 12-11 lead into the first media timeout at the 14:43 mark.
Alabama tied the game at 12-all on the next possession on a free throw by junior Herbert Jones, as the teams traded the lead over the next several minutes before an 8-3 spurt, started by a 3-pointer from junior Cartier Diarra, gave K-State a 25-21 advantage at the 9:57 mark.
The Crimson Tide took their opportunities at the free throw line knocking down 4 in a row to tie the game at 25-all with 7:25 before halftime. However, the Wildcats responded with 5 straight points on a Diarra jumper and a 3-pointer from junior Mike McGuirl to push back ahead 30-25 and force a timeout by Alabama head coach Nate Oats at the 6:20 mark.
Alabama responded out of the timeout with 4 straight points to close the deficit to 30-29 and force Wildcat head coach Bruce Weber to call a timeout with 4:41 before halftime. The run continued on the next possession, as Jones gave the Crimson Tide a 31-30 edge at the final media timeout at the 3:42 mark.
As had been the case for much of the game, the teams exchanged the lead over the next few possessions before free throws by senior Makol Mawien and a jumper by junior Levi Stockard III gave K-State a 37-36 lead at the half.
The Wildcats connected on 38.2 percent (13-of-34) from the field in the first half, including 45.5 percent (5-of-11) from 3-point range, while the Crimson Tide hit on 45 percent (9-of-20), including 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from beyond the arc. They also took advantage of their opportunities at the line, knocking down 14 of 18 attempts.
Sophomore Kira Lewis, Jr., led all scorers with 13 points for Alabama on 3-of-5 field goals and 6-of-6 free throws, while Murphy led K-State with 8 points on 3-of-5 field goals, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. Fellow freshman DaJuan Gordon added 6 points on 3-of-5 field goals to go with a career-best 8 rebounds.
The Crimson Tide opened the second half with 5 consecutive points, including a 3-pointer by junior Alex Reese on the first possession, to take a 41-37 lead and force Weber to call a timeout at the 18:08 mark.
The Alabama lead was 43-37 before junior David Sloan gave K-State its first points of the second half on a free throw at the 17:21 mark. Despite their poor shooting start to the second half, the Wildcats hung around, closing the gap to 45-43 on a Sneed free throw and a layup by Murphy at the 15:47 mark.
It was at this point that the Crimson Tide grabbed the momentum, using a 14-0 run to take a 59-43 lead at the 12:14 mark. Lewis (4) and freshman Jaden Shackelford (7) combined for 11 of the 14 points during the key run.
However, the ever-resilient Wildcats slowly chipped away at the deficit, using an 18-3 run to close to within 62-61 on a 3-pointer by Diarra at the 6:34 mark. Diarra and Sneed combined for 14 of the 18 points in the run.
Once again, the teams traded baskets before a 3-pointer by Reese gave the Crimson Tide the edge they needed for a 69-65 lead with 3:11 to play. Diarra once again pulled the Wildcats within a possession at 69-67 before Weber called his last timeout at the 2:48 mark.
However, Alabama was able to stave off any further comeback, as the Crimson Tide knocked down 7 of 10 attempts from the free throw line for the 77-74 victory.
Alabama connected on 52.2 percent (12-of-23) from the field in the second half, including 30.8 percent (4-of-13) from 3-point range, and went 13-of-19 (68.4 percent) from the free throw line. K-State hit on just 32.5 percent (13-of-40) from the field after halftime, including 27.8 percent (5-of-18) from beyond the arc, and went 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) from the line.
Lewis led all scorers with 13 points for the Crimson Tide, while Diarra had 12 for the Wildcats in the second half.
PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
Senior Makol Mawien recorded his fourth career double-double, including his second this season, with 13 points on 5-of-9 field goals and career-tying 12 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Junior Cartier Diarra scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the second half to lead K-State in scoring for the fourth time in 5 games. He has now scored in double figures in 9 of the last 13 games.
STAT OF THE GAME
27-of-37 – Alabama took advantage of its opportunities from the free throw line, knocking down 27 of 37 attempts, including 14 of 18 in the first half. The Crimson Tide had 8 more makes than the Wildcats had attempts (19) from the line, as free throws accounted for more than 35 percent of their scoring.