Alabama's 18th-ranked men's basketball squad started the season with four easy wins but faced its toughest competition Thursday in their opening game of the Phil Knight Invitational against the 12th-ranked Michigan State Spartans.

The Crimson Tide came out victorious with an 81-70 win. While it's only November, this game had an NCAA tournament feel to it, and much experience was gained from a young and talented Alabama squad. With this win, Alabama will move on to the winner's bracket to face the 20th-ranked UConn Huskies on Friday for another big test. If Alabama can win Friday, they could find themselves in the championship game against the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.

Freshman Brandon Miller led the way once again for the Crimson Tide with 24 points and continued to stay hot from behind the arc, hitting four of his seven 3-point attempts. Miller also pulled down nine rebounds, one shy of a double-double.

Alabama entered the game leading the nation in rebounds averaging 56, with a rebound margin of 24.5. The Crimson Tide's previous opponents were undersized, and tonight was the first real test to see if Nate Oats' squad has what it takes to battle in the paint against top competition. Michigan State out-rebounded Alabama 42-40, but the Crimson Tide outscored the Spartans in the paint 38-30. The ability to score in the paint was key to the Alabama victory, as 10 of their first 11 field goals came inside the paint. 

Alabama is still not at full strength, but their deep bench also played a big part in the win against Michigan State. The Bama bench outscored the Spartan bench 24-13, led by Noah Gurley, who contributed 12 points, and Jahvon Quinerly, who provided 10 points in just 18 minutes as he is easing himself back into full speed recovering from his ACL injury last year in the NCAA tournament.

The UConn contest will be on Friday at 8:30 pm.

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