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November 20, 2011SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico | The offense, at times, would come and go for the University of Alabama basketball team in Puerto Rico.
The defense was a different story, as Purdue found out Sunday night.
No.15 Alabama held the Boilermakers, who had averaged 88 points per game in their first two tournament wins, to just 56, using a fast start and a withering second half to roll to a 65-56 win and a Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship. In its three-game run to the title, Alabama (5-0) held its opponents to just 52.7 points per game.
"We tried to get them out of what they do, the 3-pointers and the cuts to the basket," said UA forward Tony Mitchell, the tournament MVP. "We thrive on defense."
UA also got balanced offense behind the leadership of Trevor Releford, who had 20 points, five assists (and a puzzling omission from the All-Tournament team). Mitchell added 14 points and 10 rebounds, Green had 14 and eight rebounds and freshman Levi Randolph added 12.
"Their game plan to focus on (Green and Mitchell)," said Alabama coach Anthony Grant. "It was good to see some of the other guys step up. It was a great lesson, a building block to understand how certain teams will take things away from you and how to take advantage. Offensively, we had some guys make plays, Trevor Releford and Levi Randolph, and then I thought some other guys like Ben Eblen and Rodney Cooper really gave us some good minutes defensively.
"But the bottom line is you are never as good or as bad as you think. Last year, we went to a tournament (the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas) and went 0-3. This year, we're 3-0. But we still have to do the same thing, which is leave here and continue to get better."
The Crimson Tide built an 11-0 lead in the first 4:45 of the game and was up 17-5 with 12:15 remaining in the half. But UA didn't score again for over eight minutes as Purdue gradually drew even at 17. Alabama held a 24-23 lead in the half.
"It was like the Kentucky game last year," said senior forward JaMychal Green. "We made some plays, we started to celebrate too early and we lost our focus. But coach Grant told us at halftime what to do, and we came out more aggressive in the second half."
The score was still tied at 33 with 12 minutes left when UA began to pull away. Mitchell hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer and the UA press forced back-to-back turnovers in a 9-1 run. By the time Mitchell hit another 3-pointer with 4:49 to go, the Crimson Tide was up by 14 and the issue as decided.
"We've played them the last two years, but they have really improved defensively," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Their athleticism, their length and their ability to change defenses really caused us problems. We have some good shooters who missed shots, some they rushed and some they flat missed. But when you have to work so hard to get a clean look, sometimes when you get a clean look, you tend to rush it.
"I didn't think we were out of energy. I thought we had their big guys sucking air, but their guards just kept coming at us in waves."
Robbie Hummel led Purdue (4-1) with 17 points.
After avoiding the talk of revenge during the tournament, both Green and Mitchell admitted the win was sweet.
"It wasn't just Purdue," Mitchell said. "It was a chance to get them and Wichita State, who beat us in the NIT last year, and that was a big thing for us.
"With Coach Painter on the USA team this summer (at the World University Games), he was always talking about coming from 16 down in Tuscaloosa (two years ago)," Green said. "So this felt good."