On the day Alabama’s men’s basketball team celebrated its 100-year anniversary, the Crimson Tide did something that may not have been done in its history.
Junior guard Trevor Releford launched a 50-footer that hit nothing but nylon as time expired to give the Tide a 61-58 victory over Georgia on Saturday.
The win – and a Missouri loss to Tennessee – propelled the Tide into fourth place for the Southeastern Conference tournament, earning two bye games.
Senior guard Andrew Steele did not play because of injury, but his reaction to Releford’s game-winning shot was just as passionate as his teammates’.
“When [the shot] went in, I hurt my foot a little bit with how excited I was,” Steele said. “It was well worth it.”
As of now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi does not have Alabama in the NCAA tournament. Its early season and poor conference losses tainted the Tide’s chances of going dancing in March Madness.
But there’s still hope for head coach Anthony Grant and company. Alabama can still sneak into the NCAA tournament if it wins the SEC championship.
The Tide (20-11, 12-6 SEC) capped off its regular season by earning its 20th victory and extended its streak to three consecutive years of winning 20 or more games.
Alabama started the game exactly how it finished against Ole Miss: by knocking down 3-pointers with ease. Releford opened the game with a 3-point shot and the rest of the team followed.
Grant praised his team’s efforts in the first half.
“I thought we played really really well in the first half,” Grant said. “I thought we were locked in. Defensively, we were as good as we’ve been at any point during the season.”
But the Tide cooled down in the second half after leading 32-18 at halftime and almost let what appeared to be an easy win slip away.
“I don’t think our team started fighting until we had been punched in the teeth about five times,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said.
Georgia (15-16, 9-9) came out of the locker room in the second half and outscored Alabama 40-29. The Bulldogs shot 58 percent (14-24) from the field in the second half.
It took a last-second miracle for Alabama to escape with a victory.
Grant said he thought the shot was good but waited on word from the officials. As a coach, he has never won a game with a half-court shot at the buzzer.
“That’s a first for me,” Grant said. “I’ve had some heartbreaking losses at the buzzer, but none of them have been from half court. … That’s a first to win a game.”
Releford led all scorers with 19 points. Nick Jacobs contributed 11 off the bench, and Levi Randolph and Retin Obasohan each tallied 7 points.
The SEC’s second leading scorer, Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, was held to just 4 points on 2-9 shooting in the first half. But he was a big part of the Bulldogs’ comeback and finished the game with 14 points.
Alabama received some much-needed depth from its freshmen, Devonta Pollard and Retin Obasohan. Pollard seemed to come out of his shell and attack the rim with a more aggressive demeanor. Obasohan collected four rebounds and two steals during 19 minutes. Together the freshmen accounted for 12 points.
The SEC tournament begins Wednesday, March 13, at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.