Is there a better way to start a season than by sinking a three-pointer at the buzzer?
With 16.2 seconds remaining, Alabama and South Dakota State were tied, 67-67.
After the Crimson Tide used its final timeout, they moved the ball around the perimeter before finding point guard Trevor Lacey, who came up clutch with a pull-up trey at the buzzer to propel Alabama to a 70-67 victory at Coleman Coliseum Friday night in Game 1 of the 2K Sports Classic.
The fans went wild—as if they were at an Alabama football game—and Lacey's teammates fled the bench to tackle their savior on the court.
"It was a great way to open the season," said head coach Anthony Grant. "I couldn't be prouder of the effort our guys gave."
Coming out of the timeout, the final play was called for Rodney Cooper with Lacey as the second option. But the Jackrabbits cut off Plan A and it was all up to Plan B.
"I was a screener and the way they defended it, it left me open and I just had to make a play," Lacey said.
And a play he made.
"As soon as the ball left Trevor's hands, I knew it was going in," Cooper said, smiling.
A win is a win, but the game was certainly a tale of two halves for Alabama. To start, the Tide had first game jitters. Bama made just five of its first 19 shots and went 36 percent from the field in the half. Twelve of their 25 total attempts were from beyond the arch as it was difficult to get penetration against the Jackrabbits defense.
Alabama would trail by as many as 13 points in the first half, but held SDSU scoreless in the final 4:27 during an 11-0 run en route to cutting down the Jackrabbits' lead to 29-27 before heading to the locker rooms.
At halftime, Grant made the necessary adjustments.
"Our defensive intensity picked up," he said. "They were really stretching us out in the first half and we weren't able to press effectively, so we fixed that."
Grant also noticed South Dakota State players Nate Wolters and Jordan Dykstra lose their luster toward the end. The two played almost the whole game, 40 and 36 minutes, respectively, so Alabama was able to "ratchet up the intensity," Grant said.
But the Tide found itself in the second half. It took its first lead since the opening minutes when Trevor Releford made a layup in transition, drew a foul and sank the free throw afterwards to put the Tide up 43-41 with 11:04 to play.
The Tide led by seven with five minutes left, but South Dakota State tied things up 67 all with 30.5 seconds on the clock. Alabama called a timeout with 16.2 seconds left and Lacey came up with the money shot to close down Coleman Coliseum.
After the game, Grant told his team this was a "character win."
"We talked about taking lessons from everything," he said. "How the football team performed in Baton Rouge and how they handled adversity and despite everything going against them, they stayed together. They are great inspiration for our guys to witness that every day with how they run their program, and we aspire to be a championship program."
Releford, who was named preseason All-SEC first-team earlier in the day, did not start, but led the team with 18 points.
"He's so slippery," said SDSU head coach Scott Nagy. "He's a little bit like a running back who's hard to close down."
Wolters, who Grant compared to Eric Maynor earlier in the week, led his team with 30 points.
Alabama shot 48.1 percent from the field and a woeful 28.6 percent from three-point range (even though, ironically, the play of the game was from beyond the arch). Releford led the team with 18 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Cooper had 17, Lacey added 15 and Andrew Steele put up 11. Randolph led the team with six rebounds.
As part of the 2K Sports Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, Alabama honored veteran Bradley Ford, 42, of Dadeville, Ala. before tip off. Ford was a member of the 3rd Infantry Division, which was the first conventional unit to cross the border into Iraq and enter Baghdad in 2003. He was injured in '05 when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
Alabama will play West Alabama in Game 2 of the Classic at home at 4 p.m. Sunday before traveling to New York City to play in Madison Square Garden for the championship rounds along with other tournament hosts Purdue, Villanova and Oregon State.
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