TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart warned his players that Alabama stars JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell are even better in person.
They saw for themselves Sunday night.
Green scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half and had 14 rebounds, and Mitchell scored 13 to lead the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide to a 72-64 victory over the Rams.
“I tried to explain to our guys the tape doesn’t really do justice to how athletic those guys are and how active they are,” said Smart, who worked with both Tide players with USA Basketball over the summer. “Green was a monster tonight. He was terrific.”
Green had missed the previous game with a hip bruise but helped the Crimson Tide move to 7-0 for the first time since 2006-07 against coach Anthony Grant’s former team. Mitchell sprained his right ankle in the previous game.
The Tide trailed VCU (3-3) by as many as six points in the second half but closed the game on a 12-5 run and allowed only one basket over the final four minutes.
“During the last four or five minutes of the game, our guys really stepped it up on the defensive end,” Grant said.
Bradford Burgess hit three 3-pointers in the second half and totaled 18 points to lead VCU, which also got 10 points from both Rob Brandenburg and Juvonte Reddic.
“Alabama deserved to win tonight,” Smart said. “They played really hard and caused us some issues, particularly in the second half. They blocked six shots, but they really changed a lot more shots.”
Grant led VCU to 76 wins from 2006 to 2009 before taking over at Alabama. Smart, his successor, took the Rams even further with a Final Four run last season, but his team is stuck at .500 despite coming off wins in two straight games against Western Kentucky.
“That may be the best 3-3 team in the country, just in terms of what they’re capable of,” Grant said.
Burgess is the only Grant recruit who saw action for the Rams. The two shared a quick hug and chat after the game.
“He just said he loved me,” Burgess said. “I told him I loved him back.”
Alabama made 13 of 21 shots (62 percent) in the second half after trailing at halftime for the first time this season, 33-32. The Tide outscored VCU 40-24 in the paint, which helped overcome 1-for-11 shooting from 3-point range.
The Tide went on an 8-0 run to take a 66-60 lead with 2:30 left. Alabama then went 6 of 8 from the free-throw line over the final 1:54.AROUND THE NATION
■ DEFENSE SPARKS PITT — At Pittsburgh, Ashton Gibbs scored 21 points and Cameron Wright added a career-high 13 as No. 17 Pittsburgh (5-1) rolled past Robert Morris, 81-71. It was the third straight win for the Panthers, who played with a defensive intensity they have lacked at times early in the season. Cordon Williams led Robert Morris (4-2) with 19 points.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
■ GORDON LEADS LOBOS — At Anaheim, Calif., Drew Gordon had 21 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season, and New Mexico beat Boston College 75-57 in the consolation championship of the 76 Classic. Tony Snell scored 13 points for New Mexico (4-2), which went ahead by 19 points in first half.
■ COWBOYS TAKE TITLE — At Laramie, Wyo., Luke Martinez scored a career-high 20 points and was named tournament Most Valuable Player after leading Wyoming to the championship of the Jim Thorpe Classic with a 73-58 win over Louisiana Tech. Francisco Cruz added 18 points for the Cowboys (6-1).