- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - When sophomore Donta Hall checked out of the game for the last time on Thursday night, there was still over seven minutes remaining in what would become the Crimson Tide’s 78-61 victory over USC Upstate.

He just scored a career-high 14 points against Oregon on Sunday in his first career start, but he managed to beat that mark on Thursday when he scored 15 against the Spartans.

“If he can continue to give us this type of production then we’ll have somebody we can throw the ball to with Jimmie (Taylor) in the low post,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “. I think this kid has a high ceiling.”

Malik Moore led the Spartans with 14 points and three teammates also finished in double figures. However, it was his teammate Michael Buchanan that had the Alabama coaching staff’s attention all week, and he still finished one rebound shy of what could have been his sixth double-double in his team’s last eight games.

“He (Buchanan) was our No. 1 priority tonight,” Johnson said. “His name was capitalized on the board because we’ve seen him dominate some really high Division-I teams.”

Limiting Buchanan helped the Crimson Tide (5-4) outscore the Spartans (7-6) in the paint 48-20.

Johnson said his team struggles to grab what he calls dirty rebounds, but Thursday night’s effort might be a step in the right direction.

Alabama won the battle of the boards 44-33 behind Bola Olaniyan (10), Braxton Key (nine) and Hall (eight).

“That’s a pretty heavy number for us,” Johnson said. “Then you start becoming a really good basketball team if we can take care of the basketball.”

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: After finishing with a season-low 56 points against the team’s first ranked opponent (then-No. 24 Oregon) in its last game, the Crimson Tide bounced back to score a season-high 78 points in this victory.

USC Upstate: The Spartans defeated their last two opponents by 22 and 28 points, respectively, before suffering the team’s worst loss since the first week of the season when the fell by 45 to Georgetown.

FRESHMAN STANDOUT

Key led Alabama in assists with five, and finished second on the team in both scoring (10 points) and rebounding (nine).

QUOTABLE

Johnson began his postgame press conference talking about broadcaster Craig Sager, who died Thursday. “(In Sager) I saw the one person that could get my mentor, outside of me, I saw one person that could get (NBA) Coach (Gregg) Popovich to smile and cooperate during the sideline interview at the end of the first and third quarter. . My life is better because I had a chance to cross paths with him.”

UP NEXT

Alabama: The Crimson Tide failed to flip the script when it fell for the second straight year to both Dayton and Oregon earlier this season, but now Alabama will get the chance to secure a victory for the second consecutive season over the Clemson Tigers when the teams meet in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday.

USC Upstate: The Spartans’ season-long three-game winning streak is snapped with the loss, but they will get the chance to start another streak when they host Jacksonville State on Sunday in the first of three consecutive home games.

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