NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A throng of Alabama fans waited in their seats at Memorial Gymnasium long after the clock hit zero, still celebrating something they hasn’t seen in a long time. Memorial had been a place of close losses and crushing defeats for a long time for Alabama’s men’s basketball team. But not Saturday.
Trevor Lacey hit a three-pointer with under a minute to go to take the lead, and Alabama defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 58-54 for its first win at Memorial Gym since 1990.
“It took too long,” guard Andrew Steele said. “There’s a lot of great players that played before us that never got to win here. My last two trips were extremely tough. Just for this team, for us to fight and overcome so much and never give up and keep believing, it’s important for our confidence going forward.”
Lacey led all scorers with 17 points, but none were bigger than the three he scored with 58 seconds left on the clock.
Alabama tied the game at 53 with 3:29 let in the game, the closest the Crimson Tide had been since the opening tipoff. The Commodores’ Kedran Johnson made one of a pair of free throw attempts to re-take the lead. Just over a minute later though, Lacey hit the three-pointer that gave Alabama its first lead of the game and one it wouldn’t surrender.
Johnson’s free throw was the last score Vanderbilt would register as it couldn’t muster any points over the last minute of the game, and the Crimson Tide hit its free throws to clinch the historic win.
Alabama moves to 14-7 on the season and 6-2 in Southeastern Conference play.
“Coach drew a play for me to come off a gate play, a double screen,” Lacey said. “They didn’t switch like they had been doing the whole game, my man was trailing and I was able to get the shot off.”
Vanderbilt led by as many as 11 with just over seven minutes left in the game. Alabama dialed up the pressure, sending a full-court press nearly every possession and the Commodores’ hot shooting suddenly went cold. From that point, the Crimson Tide put together an 18-3 run to close the game.
“I tried to tell them to just keep fighting,” said senior Andrew Steele, who finished the game with 13 points and was 3-for-4 behind the arc. “Chip away, chip away, keep chipping away. Eventually we overcame it. I had full confidence that we would win the game. I didn’t know how it would come about. But for one second, I don’t think our team stopped believing that we would get the win.”
Vanderbilt came out strong from the start. The Commodores shot 57.9 percent from the field, including a scorching 71.4 percent on three-point shots. Vanderbilt closed the half on a 7-0 run to take a 31-23 lead.
After getting as close as three points midway through the second half, Vanderbilt went on a 10-2 run to extend the lead to 11, before Alabama came storming back.
“Big time win today by our guys, the fight in the second half their resiliency just was awesome,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “We always talk about it being a 40 minute game. You’ve got to stay the course and play it all the way through, a lot went wrong for us tonight.”
Junior point guard Trevor Releford left the game in the closing minutes and did not return. Grant said Releford sustained an eye contusion and was held out for precautionary reasons after experiencing swelling and blurred vision.
Alabama will travel to Auburn on Feb. 6 to take on the Auburn Tigers at 7 p.m.