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With renewed confidence, Trevor Lacey making difference for Alabama

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
Trevor Lacey led Alabama with 20 points in a 65-62 win over Oregon State. (AP)

NEW YORK -- It looked like Trevor Lacey could go for his second game-winning shot in less than a week. With less than 20 seconds left in a tied game, Lacey drove the lane -- and had a slight opening for a tough runner.

Instead, he kicked it out to an open Rodney Cooper for a 3-pointer. Lacey didn't force a shot, or look to pull-up with a hand in his face. He simply drew an Oregon State defender and found an open teammate.

“That's the thing we preach. Guys have to be ready to make a play,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “And that was the right play.”

The Cooper 3-pointer ended up being the difference, as the Crimson Tide beat Oregon State 65-62, advancing to the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Lacey, though, led the way with 20 points, knocking down 4-of-7 from 3-point range, and also dishing out four assists. Every time Oregon State made a run in the second half, Lacey had an answer. Back-to-back 3-pointers and a dunk extended the Crimson Tide lead to 14 with less than 10 minutes remaining. When Oregon State cut the lead to five, Lacey finished a dunk to extend the lead.

Finally, of course, there was the game-winning assist on the final possession.

“I just feel like I had to make a couple plays and be aggressive and make plays for teammates,” Lacey said. “It just opened up for me. I just stepped up and made the shots.”

As a freshman, Trevor Lacey was expected to come in and be the missing piece for Alabama's offense. He had a reputation for being a big-time scorer with deep range and plenty of confidence.

That didn't come to fruition. Minor knee surgery in the summer of 2011 hindered his development during his first season in Tuscaloosa, and his production was inconsistent throughout the campaign. Lacey played the sixth-most minutes on the team, averaging 7.3 points on 41 percent shooting.

“My teammates stayed on me about it, telling me to stay with it, keep shooting, put in the extra work that I wasn't putting in,” Lacey said. “That's what I'm trying to do this year, put in the extra work.”

He certainly has been putting in work so far this season. Lacey provided the season's first buzzer-beater of the year, knocking down a game-winning 3-pointer to beat South Dakota State in the season opener. He followed that up with five 3-pointers and 23 points against West Alabama.

Moreover, Lacey has taken on more of a playmaking role this season. Former starter Trevor Releford has been coming off the bench, meaning Lacey has the ball in his hands more often at the beginning of possessions. It's worked out fine, dishing out 11 assists in the first three games. He's also been taking smarter shots -- and knocking them down. Lacey was shooting 65 percent from the field heading into Thursday, while also making 75 percent of his 3-pointers.

Much of it can be attributed to finally having a full offseason to work out and get acclimated to the college game. Because of his knee surgery, Lacey wasn't the same player heading into last season.

It's certainly different now.

“He's got a year under his belt, he understands it a little better,” Grant said. “He's benefitting from the experience he got last year. He's a very good player, and he's taking advantage of his talent and his gifts.”

And if Alabama is going to make noise in the SEC this season, that's a trend that has to continue.

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