Bama reaches final in thriller

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Laura Owens

NEW YORK CITY | The Alabama Crimson Tide (25-11, 12-4) defeated the Colorado Buffaloes (24-14) 62-61 on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden in Alabama’s only 2011 NIT thriller so far. After winning its first three games soundly, the Tide fought hard against Colorado and managed to pull out a win.

Colorado dominated the second half, leading for most of it. Alabama had spurts of retaking the lead, but only led three times in the half, times that were far between. To end the game, Alabama had possession with 16 seconds left and freshman Trevor Releford went in for a layup to give the Tide the one-point lead.

“I just had to make a play for the game, and I was lucky enough to score,” Releford said. “Coach [Anthony Grant] told me you have to grow up and step up to the plate, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Colorado had the final possession with nine seconds left and the last shot was left to the Buffaloes’ Alec Burks, who missed a 20-footer. Burks had 20 points in the game to lead his team.

“The stakes being as high as they are, I’m extremely proud of how our guys persevered,” Grant said. “We were fortunate to win the game. The game could’ve gone either way. Burks took the last shot, and he’s made so many of those, and it bounced our way.”

For the game, Alabama went 28-of-56 (50 percent) from the field. The Tide’s defense held strong against a team that usually averages 80 points per game by holding them to 40 percent shooting, going 20-of-50. On the free throw line, Colorado only missed two, hitting 13-of-15, while Alabama only hit 4-of-11.

Junior JaMychal Green fouled out with two minutes left in the second half, contributing 22 points before going out, making him the game’s highest scorer.

To end the first half, Alabama was up 36-30 over Colorado. The half was full of runs on both sides, with Alabama making a 10-0 run and Colorado coming back with a 12-1 run. Alabama then answered back with an 8-0 run to maintain the lead going into halftime.

In the first half, Alabama made 52 percent of its field goals and 40 percent of its three-pointers. Green led the Tide in points with 12. Senior Chris Hines had seven rebounds in the first half.

The Tide’s defense held the Buffaloes, a team that ranks No. 11 nationally in scoring, to 38 percent shooting and 29 percent from 3-point range. Alabama had its largest lead of the first half at 11 with three minutes left, and then Colorado caught back up before halftime. Burks scored the most for Colorado in the first half with 13 points.

In its second NIT championship game appearance, Alabama will face Wichita State Thursday at Madison Square Garden. The game is set to begin at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

“This is big for this program,” Releford said. “It’s a good step, and I just hope we finish it off.”