Lacey's Clutch Play Gets Tide SEC Win

Alabama freshman guard Trevor Lacey scored seven of his game-high 15 points in the final three minutes – including a clutch three-pointer and two free throws in the final minute – as the Crimson Tide limped through the first round of the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament with a 63-57 win over South Carolina at the New Orleans Arena Thursday afternoon.

Alabama, which came into the tournament as the fifth seed, defeated the 12th (last) seed, South Carolina, which avenged perhaps Bama's worst loss of the season, a 56-54 loss to the Gamecocks in Columbia.

Alabama advances to the second round of the tournament against the number four seed Florida Gators, who had a first round bye. The Crimson Tide and Florida will tip off at 2:30 p.m. CST. Florida took a 61-52 win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa earlier this season.

Alabama improved to 21-10 with Thursday's victory. The Tide is 4-0 in true neutral site games. South Carolina's season ended at 10-21.

The Crimson Tide squandered an 11-point halftime lead, but made plays in the final moments to secure the victory.

The consensus basketball opinion is that Alabama has earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament. That 68-team field will be announced Sunday. That opinion also included the importance of Alabama defeating South Carolina.

Bama won the game at the free throw line. The Crimson Tide faced a packed-in matching zone by the Gamecocks, but Alabama continued to attack inside and was rewarded with South Carolina having to foul.

For the game, Alabama made 24-29 free throws (82.8 per cent) as the Gamecocks committed 25 fouls. Bama committed four fouls and South Carolina made 5-6 free throws. For Alabama, Trevor Lacey was 6-6, JaMychal Green 6-8, Levi Randolph 5-6, Trevor Releford 3-3, Rodney Cooper 2-2, and Nick Jacobs 2-4 from the foul line.

Lacey led Alabama with 15 points with Green getting 12, Jacobs 10, and Releford and Randolph 9 each. Green led the Tide in rebounding as Bama had a 29-25 advantage on the boards. That margin, however, is tempered by the Gamecocks out-rebounding Bama 16-9 in the second half.

Alabama took only 41 official shots from the field, in part because of so many South Carolina fouls on the shooter. The Tide made 19 for 46.3 per cent. The Gamecocks were 22-52 for 42.3 per cent. Lacey's last-minute trey was Alabama's only good three-pointer in six tries (16.7 per cent), while the Gamecocks tried 24 threes and made eight of them for 33.3 per cent.

Alabama had a 32-20 advantage on points in the paint and a 15-12 advantage on turnovers. The Tide's press was advantageous in the first half, but for the game the Gamecocks had 17 turnovers, Alabama 15 – five by Green. Alabama had a 15-12 advantage in points off turnovers, an 8-5 margin in second chance points, and the Tide bench outscored South Carolina subs by 21-19. South Carolina had six fast break points, Alabama four.

Damien Leonard and Brenton Williams led the Gamecocks with 13 points each. Bruce Ellington (who didn't score in the first half and sat out much of the second period in foul trouble) had 11 for South Carolina.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant, who had complained about Bama effort in the loss to South Carolina earlier in the year, and also in Bama's loss to Ole Miss in the final game of regular season play, said he was "very proud of our guys for the effort today. It's a great win for us. I felt like from the beginning of the game, our energy, our effort was really good. I thought defensively, the guys were really locked in, did a great job in terms of the things we talked about that we needed to do to be successful today.

"Give South Carolina credit. I thought they came out in the second half and they responded well. We talked about our energy and effect in the second half and needing to get off to a good start, and they were able to get some shots to fall which gave them confidence and they went on a run.

"But our guys stayed together, stayed poised, played with great heart and passing and were able to come out with the win."

Alabama had an 11-point lead at halftime, 37-26, with South Carolina's Damien Leonard making a trey just before intermission to cut what had been Bama's biggest lead of 14 points. The Gamecocks came out of halftime and Bruce Ellington hit another three-pointer, signaling the start of tough times for the Tide.

South Carolina opened the second half with a 14-3 run to pull to within a basket at 42-40, but the Tide responded with an 8-0 run. The run began when Green blocked a shot to Releford, who took it the length of the court and was fouled on a layup attempt. A goaltend was also called on the play and Releford converted. Four consecutive free throws by Lacey made it Alabama 50, South Carolina 40, but the Gamecocks didn't go away.

Leonard's fourth three-pointer of the game and two treys by Brenton Williams around a Green free throw and the game was tied at 51-51 with 6:40 to play.

Bama was a bit sloppy with critical turnovers by Green and Andrew Steele, but in between Green was awarded a basket on goaltending and Alabama had the lead for good.

Lacey was at his best down the stretch. He had a driving layup to make it 55-51 with just under three minutes. As the clock ticked under a minute, Lacey beat the shot clock with a deep trey for a 58-53 lead.

The Gamecocks were forced to foul and Lacey made two free throws and Levi Randolph one to ice the game.

The Gamecocks had an 11-9 lead midway through the first half, but Alabama's press was instrumental in the Crimson Tide going on a 12-2 run. Bama took the lead for good when Andrew Steele turned a scramble for a throw-in into an alley-oop slam dunk for JaMichael Green and a 13-11 lead.

Of Alabama's 37 first half points, 26 came in the paint. That was partly because of the Tide press and fast break offense resulting in layups, partly because of offensive rebounding (Bama had an overall advantage of 19-9 on the boards, 6 offensive), and partly by Green and Nick Jacobs beating the Gamecocks defenders down low.

In an earlier game, LSU eliminated Arkansas, 70-54.

Auburn was to meet Ole Miss and Mississippi State was to play Georgia in evening first round games.

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