No. 24 Alabama shakes off slow start, downs Georgia

Mark Sears overcame a slow start to finish with 23 points as No. 24 Alabama escaped a deep hole to defeat Georgia 85-76 in a Southeastern Conference matchup in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday night.

Grant Nelson nailed two big 3-pointers en route to 20 points, and he and Sears combined to score 19 of the Crimson Tide’s final 21 points.

Alabama (15-6, 7-1 SEC) shot 62.5 percent in the second half and took its first lead thanks to a 15-3 run. Sears scored eight points during the burst, including five straight to put Alabama ahead 71-66 with 3:40 remaining.

Georgia was back within two points on Justin Hill’s three-point play with 2:06 left, but Nelson then hit a trey. After a layup by Hill, Nelson hit his other 3-pointer and Sears added a layup to extend the lead to eight with 36 seconds to play.

RJ Melendez and Noah Thomasson scored 15 points apiece to lead Georgia (14-7, 4-4), which hurt its chances with 19 turnovers. Alabama used those miscues to score 19 points. Melendez added 10 rebounds and three steals, Russel Tchewa contributed 10 points and nine boards and Silas Demary Jr. chipped in 10 points.

Despite an awful start, the Crimson Tide finished at 53.3 percent from the field and recovered to go 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) from deep after going just 2-for-11 in the first half.

Alabama held Georgia to 44.3 percent shooting overall. The Bulldogs went 7-for-17 from 3-point range.

The Crimson Tide, the nation’s highest-scoring team in Division I at 89.7 points per game entering Wednesday, spent the entire first half trying to play catch-up after making only two of their first 12 shots.

The Bulldogs took advantage, breaking away from a 4-2 lead by going on a 13-0 run. They hit three treys during the burst, capped by Blue Cain’s bomb on the fastbreak to put Georgia ahead 17-2.

Alabama twice trimmed its deficit to nine in the first half, the second time after Aaron Estrada scored five straight points to pull the Crimson Tide within 30-21. Georgia’s 7-0 burst pushed the margin back to 16 points, and it led 41-27 at the break after Thomasson’s jumper with 38 seconds to go.