NEW YORK (AP) — To hear Avery Johnson speak, the importance of preseason tournaments for his young team can be distilled to one word.
“Exposure,” Johnson said after No. 25 Alabama’s 71-59 win over BYU in the Barclays Center Classic on Friday.
“(It) gives the kids a new experience. You can’t take for granted a lot of them have never been to New York,” said Johnson, who joked about his prior experience in Brooklyn as coach of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, where he compiled a 60-116 record before being fired during the 2012-13 season.
“There’s been a lot of great basketball played in Brooklyn. I know that for a fact. Not necessarily my team, but overall,” Johnson said.
His team on Friday showed it could find a way to win. Alabama improved to 5-0, the best start for the Crimson Tide since 2012-13, when they began 6-0.
John Petty scored 16 points to lead Alabama. Dazon Ingram added 15 for the Crimson Tide. Donta Hall had 12, and Collin Sexton finished with 10.
“We have a very balanced team,” Ingram said. “We try to be as balanced as we can offensively and defensively.”
BYU fell to 3-2 with its second loss in three games. Yoeli Childs led the Cougars with 21 points.
“Unique” was the word BYU coach Dave Rose used to describe the Steinberg Wellness Center, on the campus of Long Island University in Brooklyn. Since Barclays Center was hosting an NBA game and the consolation and championship games of the Preseason NIT, the first day of the Barclays Center Classic was moved to the Northeast Conference school’s small gym a few blocks away.
“Not what we expected when we signed up for this thing,” Rose said.
In his third season, Johnson is attempting to build Alabama into a program that can compete on a national level. And the matchup against BYU showed why the Crimson Tide could be an intriguing team this season.
Alabama built a 15-point lead in the second half following Riley Norris’ layup with 10:43 left. Part of that was because of the Crimson Tide’s ability to pressure BYU defensively. Alabama recorded six blocked shots and forced 11 turnovers.
“We tried to mix up our defenses,” Johnson said. “I think in today’s game you can’t have one pick-and-roll coverage. You need four or five or six of them just to try to keep teams off balance.”
But program building does mean growing pains. And the Crimson Tide’s youth also revealed itself in the second half. Following Petty’s 3-pointer with 7:35 left, which gave Alabama a 61-47 lead, BYU outscored the Crimson Tide 8-2 in a span of 1:21 to cut the deficit to 63-55. Dalton Nixon made two free throws and Zac Seljaas made consecutive 3s for the Cougars in that stretch.
BYU got back into the game in part because of questionable shot selection in the second half from the Crimson Tide, who made 18 of 30 shots from the field before halftime. Alabama missed 16 of 25 shots from the field in the second half.
“Overall we may lack in experience,” Johnson said. “We’ll continue to grow and gain some more experience. We hope when we gain that experience with our talent we’ll be able to make that next step. But we’re not ready to take that step yet.”
Eight points was as close as BYU would get. Ingram knocked down two free throws, and Hall’s tip-in in the final two minutes gave the Crimson Tide the margin of victory.
Alabama: Size matters. At least it does to the Crimson Tide. Alabama has 11 players 6-foot-5 or taller. That size and length allowed Alabama to create turnovers and contest shots, leading to fast breaks.
BYU: It may not be fair to say as Elijah Bryant goes, so does BYU. But Bryant, who entered the game averaging 21.5 points, was limited to three points in the first half and five for the game.
The Crimson Tide entered the game having won their first four by an average of 18 points per game. Moreover, Alabama was holding opponents to .411 shooting from the field and .338 shooting from 3-point range, while blocking 6.8 shots and forcing 7.3 steals in those games. … The Cougars fell to 0-2 all-time against the Crimson Tide. In the only other meeting, BYU dropped a 77-74 decision on Dec. 30, 1957.
Alabama: Will play No. 14 Minnesota Saturday in the Barclays Center Classic.
BYU: Will play Massachusetts Saturday in Brooklyn.