TUSCALOOSA — Last season, Alabama ranked as one of the nation's worst at making 3-pointers, but that turned into the weapon that lifted the Tide in its season opener Friday night.
After trailing for much of the game, Alabama beat South Dakota State 70-67 as Tide guard Trevor Lacey nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
After the opening minute, the visiting Jackrabbits led the whole way until about 11 minutes to when Alabama's Trevor Releford sank a basket and a foul shot to give the Tide a two-point lead. Releford led the second-half charge by scoring 15 of his team-high 18 points after intermission.
But Alabama never could push its lead past five points, and South Dakota State trimmed the advantage down steadily. Trailing 67-63, the Jackrabbits' Nate Wolters hit two foul shots with 1:10 to play. Then Tony Fiegen tied it with a basket with about 30 seconds left, setting up Lacey's last shot.
This is part of the 2K Sports Classic, which includes Sunday's home game against Alabama. South Dakota State returned the bulk of its team from last year after winning 27 games and making the NCAA tournament.
"We played tentatively, and there's no reason for it," South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. "We've played enough games like this that we shouldn't have been nervous playing at Alabama, but I think we were."
The Crimson Tide also got 17 points from Rodney Cooper and 15 from Lacey, a sophomore and a former Alabama Mr. Basketball at Butler High in Huntsville.
"Lacey hit a tough shot, with our best defender on him," Nagy said. "Lacey is a good player. At the end of the year, he'll probably lead their team in scoring."
Wolters, who averaged about 21 points a game last season, paced South Dakota State with 30 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals. By Tide a two-point lead, its first since the opening minute.
Auburn 61, IPFW 50: In a two-man show, Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan was outscored by IPFW’s Frank Gaines but Sullivan scored when it mattered most including a put-back dunk with 1:24 to go which capped an 18-4 run.
Sullivan scored 26 points, one shy of his career high, and had four rebounds, Allen Payne had 12 points and Rob Chubb had 10 points and a career high 15 rebounds as Auburn came from behind to defeat IPFW on Friday night at Auburn Arena.
“I’d rather play great defense than outscore anybody,” Sullivan said. “I don’t like getting into scoring matches with anybody because it’s not an individual game it’s a team game. I really don’t like taking shots like that but it was at the point where we just had to.”
Auburn trailed 42-37 with 11:01 to go when Sullivan took over, scoring nine of the Tigers’ next 18 points and slammed in a missed layup by Allen Payne with 1:24 to go which brought the crowd of 6,391 to its feet.
“It felt great,” said Sullivan, who had knee surgery two years ago.
“I don’t think I did that since 12th grade. It was a long time ago. Me doing that was a great thing for me and it just got the crowd pumping. I think that was a great turning point in the game not only for me but for my teammates.”
Gaines scored a career high 32 points for IPFW and became the first opposing player to score 30-plus against the Tigers since Ole Miss’ Dundrecous Nelson scored 30 on March 2, 2011.
Gaines, a senior, shot 10-of-18 from the field including 3-for-8 from 3-point range and added nine free throws.
“I was on point on offense,” Gaines said. Auburn predominantly played zone in the second half and held IPFW to just 23.1 percent shooting after the break and 28.8 percent for the game.
“The zone has been good for us,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “The guys understand how much I despise playing zone but until we can guard that basketball, do a better job of communicating and anticipating instead of reacting on the man-to-man, we’re going to have to go to that zone and go back-and-forth.”
The IPFW offense was inept aside from Gaines as the rest of the Mastodons shot a dreadful 5-for-34 from the floor. IPFW led by as much as 24-15 with 3:21 to go in the first half as Auburn had a very poor shooting performance. “Offensively, we struggled in the last four minutes with their zone,” IPFW coach Tony Jasick said.