HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The sentimental story line may have been a homecoming for a pair of Alabama players. But a career-high scoring effort and perfect shooting from the field by Donta Hall was the difference for the Crimson Tide in their 84-75 victory Tuesday night over Liberty in the neutral-site Rocket City Classic.
Hall, a 6-foot-9 senior, sank all six of his shots from the floor, racking up 21 points for Alabama (7-3).
"If he catches it anywhere from six feet in, just cover your head," Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said of Hall.
"He was just active and strong with the ball," said Alabama coach Avery Johnson. "He took the challenge. He was strong with the basketball, confident at the line (where he was 9 for 11). We need that type of activity."
Kira Lewis Jr., a freshman guard making his first hometown appearance as a collegian, scored 17 points and fellow Huntsville product sophomore John Petty added 16 points.
Caleb Homesley scored a career-high 23 and Scottie James collected a season-best 20 points with 11 rebounds for Liberty (9-3).
Petty's high school graduation was held at the Propst Arena, where Tuesday's game was played, and "walking through this building then was one of the most fun things I've done."
Lewis, a 17-year-old, bypassed his final year of high school and thus had no similar memories, but recalled "my greatest memory in this building was watching this man (Petty) play in high school."
The homecoming perhaps impacted Petty, who managed only two points in the first half as Alabama led the Flames just 34-33. However, he canned a pair of 3-pointers in the first 1:42 of the second half, enabling the Tide to create some breathing room. He and Lewis combined for 13 of Alabama's 15 points in one stretch.
"The difference for me was I relaxed," Petty said. "I had been kind of timid on my shots, worried about missing. In the second half, all the guys told me just relax, it's going to come. They got the ball to me and we pushed the energy."
Johnson helped with that push at halftime as well. The Tide's first-half play did not sit well with him.
"I can't tell you what I said at halftime. I was a little bit animated," he said. "I really wasn't happy with our offensive flow. We were too stagnant, too much isolation basketball. They responded and they came out with more energy."
Alabama shot 25 for 39 from the line, compared to 14 for 17 for the Flames. Said McKay, "Alabama's a really good basketball team, especially when they had the opportunities they had at the free-throw line. . It was a well-officiated game, but we've got to do better (preventing fouls)."
Alabama: The rather comfortable margin of victory for the Tide was a welcomed one. Alabama's last five games had been decided by six points or fewer, with the Tide going 3-2. However, there was a one-point differential at 10:35 of the second half before a 13-4 Alabama run.
Liberty: This was the second loss to an SEC team for Liberty, which previously fell to Vanderbilt 79-70.
Liberty: The Flames face Alabama State on Friday morning in the St. Pete Shootout in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide host Penn State on Friday.