BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

FAYETTEVILLE – No. 4 Alabama saw a nine-point, second-half lead at No. 15 Arkansas get down to two with just under five minutes to play on Tuesday night.

But a team that had already won road games at then No. 1 Houston and at Mississippi State and had neutral site wins over then No. 1 North Carolina and No. 12 Michigan State did not panic.

Instead the Crimson Tide (14-2, 4-0 in SEC action) took a timeout,  delivered a 9-0 haymaker in the next 49 seconds and scored 19 of the games last 25 points for an 84-69 win at Bud Walton Arena.

“I just told them, look, it’s a game of runs,” Alabama head coach Nat Oats said.  “They cut it. We’ve got to get back to getting stops, take care of the ball on offense. Settle them down a little bit. They did. They came out. We got stops. We hit some big shots.

“…I couldn’t be more proud of our guys, we keep getting a little bit better every game and staying in this for the SEC Championship.”

The Alabama win ended a 17-game home winning streak for Arkansas (12-4, 1-3) and came after the Razorbacks fell 72-59 at Auburn last Saturday.

“It was a tough road win,” Oats said. “Our kids showed some toughness and some character and grit and handled some runs and still stayed in there.

“I think it snapped a 17-game home winning streak and think it had been 30 years since they lost to a ranked team as a ranked team so there was a lot of things that hadn’t been done in this building in a long time. Our guys did well. We have a talented group.”

Ohio University transfer and junior point guard Mark Sears led Alabama with 26 points, including going 10 of 10 at the free throw line.

He was impressed with the Bud Walton Arena atmosphere on Wednesday night that included ESPN broadcasters in former Arkansas player Jimmy Dykes and Jay Bilas, who was on hand for his first game in Fayetteville.

“It was amazing out there,” Sears said. “At times, you couldn’t even hear yourself talking. But that’s why we came to Bama to play in big-time games like this.”

Noah Clowney added 15 points and fellow freshman Brandon Miller had all 14 of his points in the second half.

Clowney knocked down the first 3-pointer of the aforementioned trio in less than a minute and Miller followed that up with two bombs of his own in what turned in 13 straight points and a 78-63 advantage with 1:27 left.

“Clowney is not scared of much and neither is Brandon,” Oats said. “I have seen it from Brandon, but Clowney stepped up big tonight.”

Miller, arguably the nation’s best freshman who is averaging 18.8 points per game, did not even attempt a shot in the first half as Arkansas focused attention on him.

“They did a really good job on Brandon Miller for most of the game and then he shook loose right at the right time. I think he has grown up because in the past when he couldn’t get a shot – and he didn’t get a shot in the first half – he would get a little frustrated.

“But if they are going to play him like that, it opens the floor up for everybody else. If they are just going to lock on to him, there is more space on the floor for everybody else and we were able to take advantage of that.”

Miller and his teammates were ready for the big stage late.

“I think it was really us just bonding together and trying to fight to get a win against a good team,” Miller said. “Just us coming together and playing as hard as we can.”

Alabama’s only losses were to UConn in the Phil Night Invitational in Portland, Oregon, and to Gonzaga in a game played in Birmingham.

The Crimson Tide have won four straight.

“I told them after the loss to UConn that if you are not tough, you are not going to win games,” Oats said. “ I thought our non-conference schedule really prepared us for this game.

“…After we beat Houston at Houston, I think our guys had confidence that we could anywhere.”

Oats expects the road win in Fayetteville to be even more highly-thought of late in the year.

He expects Arkansas to bounce back from a 1-3 SEC start as it did a year ago, but does think playing a tougher non-conference slate like Alabama night have gotten them going sooner even without injured stars Nick Smith and Trevon Brazile.

The Razorbacks travel to Vanderbilt on Saturday and Missouri on Wednesday before hosting Ole Miss on Saturday, Jan. 21.

“They did not play as tough a schedule in non conference,” Oats said. “Shoot, they were 1-3 last year and 1-3 again. They ended up 13-5 last year. They’ll get it figured out.

“I think they have to play some tough games in conference to figure it out, but based on what they have done here in the past, I am pretty sure they will get it figured out and this will be a huge road win for us. 

‘I mean they are a Top 25 team. It is the third Top 25 team that we have beat on the road in Houston and Mississippi State and now them.”

Oats was not a fan of 45 fouls being called.

“We would rather play in the flow,” Oats said. “You know how we play. We are not trying to ball set every time down the floor. I am out trying to control every pass, dribble and shot. I try to teach our guys how to play basketball and let them play.”

Photo courtesy of Alabama basketball