February 19, 2011 11:01:00 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Sophomore Tony Mitchell had a career-high 27 points, Trevor Releford had 17 points, and JaMychal Green 16 points Saturday night to lead the University of Alabama men''s basketball team to a 69-56 victory against the University of Arkansas.
Mitchell and Green added nine rebounds each and Releford had four assists as the Crimson Tide (18-8, 10-2) clinched at least a share of the Southeastern Conference''s Western Division championship.
It was Mitchell''s fifth 20-point performance in his past six games.
Rotnei Clarke scored 21 points for Arkansas (16-10, 5-7), which won 70-65 at home in the teams'' first meeting on Jan. 15.
Alabama is 14-0 this season at home, and has won 15 straight in Coleman Coliseum going back to last season. This was Alabama''s third SEC West title and its first since 2005.
With the score tied 51 and 8 minutes, 15 seconds remaining, Alabama went on a 12-3 run to bolt to a 63-54 lead on a dunk by Green with 2:50 to go.
In an evenly played first half that had six ties and seven lead changes, Mitchell''s layup at the buzzer tied it 31-31 at intermission.
Alabama built a 12-6 lead, but the Razorbacks went on a 24-14 run to go in front 30-26 with 3:12 left on an alley-oop dunk by Glenn Bryant off a pass from Mardracus Wade.
Releford made a field goal, was fouled and made the free throw to pull the Crimson Tide to within 30-29. Marshawn Powell made a free throw with 24 seconds to go for Arkansas to make it 31-29 before Mitchell tied it at the half.
As it did in the first half, Alabama started quickly in the second, opening up a 38-33 lead, but Arkansas responded with a 16-6 run to take a 49-44 lead after two free throws by Clarke.
"When we were down five and things weren''t going our way, earlier in the year our guys might have gotten frustrated. But Trevor was able to take advantage of some opportunities to make a play," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "I thought it was a tremendous effort. Our defense in the second half was outstanding. Our guys weren''t going to be denied today. As a team, we really stepped up. We dug down deep somewhere around the eight-minute mark. It was a nip-and-tuck game, and from there we dug in.
"I felt in the first half we had some breakdowns. We did a much better job in the second half in eliminating their transition opportunities."
As for clinching at least a share of the SEC West, Grant said, "I''m happy for our guys, but there''s a lot more basketball to be played. We just need to stay focused."
Asked about his career-high game that included some spectacular one-handed dunks," Mitchell said, "I just credit my teammates for finding me."
Said Releford, "When Tony''s on, anybody on our team is going to help in finding him."
Arkansas entered the contest averaging an SEC-low 13.3 turnovers a game, but the Crimson Tide''s defense forced the Razorbacks into 18 turnovers. Alabama has now held 17 opponents to 60 or fewer points.
"Probably the biggest thing for us was in the second half, defensively, we were not as good as we were in the first half," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "Their big three made some plays, and obviously from an offensive side we found it tougher sledding in the second half. Alabama was just better than us down the stretch."
Said Clarke, "They made plays that we didn''t."