Trailing by three points with just over 10 seconds to play in Coleman Coliseum, Alabama guard Ron Steele was awarded three free shots and made them all to send the game into overtime at 67-67. And then with the game tied at 75 with two seconds remaining in overtime, Steele drove the lane, made a layup, and was fouled. His free throw was the final point of the game.
The victory was Alabama's third in a row since Bama's best player, Chuck Davis, was lost for the season with a knee injury. The Tide improved to 10-6 overall and 3-1 in Southeastern Conference games. Arkansas fell to 12-5 overall, but only 1-3 in SEC games.
Bama will be at LSU, the SEC West Division leader, at 2 p.m. Saturday for a game that will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot.
Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said he was sure that Steele would make the must free throws at the end of the game. "I never had a doubt he would make all three," Gottfried said. "There's not a player in America I'd rather have in that position."
Jermareo Davidson said, "He's clutch. I always knew he had it in him."
Freshman forward Richard Hendrix said, "There was no doubt in my mind he was going to make them. He's one of the best free throw shooters in the league."
Steele, who said he had never had to make shots like that to win a college game, said, "We shoot free throws every day [in practice]. Stay calm and have confidence."
He said he gave the defender a head fake. "Fortunately, he bit on it, and I was able to go to the line."
Steele, who had a game-high 25 points, gave Bama a 72-69 lead in overtime with a three-point shot, but the game was tied at 75-75 by Arkansas' Eric Ferguson with just over a minute to play. Bama missed a shot with 30 seconds, but got the rebound; missed another shot with 26 rebounds, and again got the rebound. This time the Tide played for a final shot.
The plan was to clear out the middle and let Steele take it one-on-one. He said he was to take it to the goal if the defense didn't collapse on him. If it did, he was to dish it off. Arkansas did not collapse and Steele drove the left side of the lane, layed it in, and then added the foul shot for the three-point lead.
A desperation shot from behind half court by the Razorbacks' Ronnie Brewer, who also missed a tough three-point try at the end of regulation, was off the mark and Bama had the home win.
Brewer missed those two, but he made a lot of shots. He finished with 22 points, hitting 8-20 field goals, including 4-10 three-pointers.
Arkansas made eight three-point shots, but the Razorbacks had 27 long range attempts, playing into Bama's game plan.
Another part of Alabama's plan is to force the ball inside and get either a short shot or free throw opportunities (or both). And Alabama shot 33 free throws (making 22) while Arkansas was 5-9. That wasn't lost on Arkansas Coach Stan Heath. "It's hard to win on the road when the free throws are 33 to 9," he said. Later he said, "I just want it to be fair." Pressed further on the free throw issue he finally said, "I'm not going there," and walked out of the post-game press conference.
Gottrfried said he was disappointed to hear Heath's comment. "Both teams played hard," he said. "We go to the line a lot every night. That's the way we play."
Gottfried said, "I am so proud of our guys. I think you have a chance to win games when you have great character. If you have a bunch of selfish guys and you are struggling down 10 points, you are in trouble. I am proud of our guys. They showed character and dug down deep and kept fighting. Ron made an unbelievable play at the end of regulation, then stepped up and made three free throws. It was a game where every player stepped up and made plays."
Alabama played the first half in a zone defense. Although the Tide fell behind by as many as seven points in the opening half–primarily because Arkansas had 14 offensive rebounds and a 26-19 advantage on the boards–Bama closed the gap to only one point, 30-29, at intermission.
Gottfried said the Tide plan was to stay in the zone, but when Brewer began finding seams in the zone, he had to abandon it for a man-to-man defense with "our best defensive player, Jean Felix," guarding Brewer.
Felix also had some big offensive plays, including hitting two treys and making another three-point play with a free throw, then a rebound and putback of the missed second foul shot. He finished with 12 points and two steals.
Arkansas had nine blcoked shots, including seven by seven-footer Steven Hill. (Gottfried said after the game that he should have recruited Hill harder since Hill's father had been a teammate of Gottfried at Oral Roberts, where Gottfried played as a freshman before transferring to Alabama.)
Davidson hit only 6 of 18 field goals, but finally finished with 19 points and also had nine rebounds. Hendrix made only 3 of 10 field goals, but finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Darian Thomas had 17 points and Charles Thomas 12 for the Razorbacks.
For the game, Alabama hit 26 of 65 field goal attempts, 40 per cent, and was good on 4-14 treys, 28.6 per cent. Bama's 22-33 free throws was 66.7 per cent. Arkansas was good on 31 of 74 field goals, 41.9 per cent, and 8-27 three-pointers, 29.6 per cent. The Hogs were good on 5-9 free throws, 55.6 per cent.
Alabama came back to win the rebounding battle, 46-45, with both teams getting 20 offensive boards. Arkansas had 13 turnovers, Alabama 11.
Alabama had 38 points in the paint to 36 for Arkansas. The Tide had 24 second chance points, the Razorbacks 16.
The crowd of 10,872 was one of the largest of the year, but perhaps a bit disappointing considering that Bama was coming off back-to-back road wins over Auburn and Kentucky. And the players noticed that some fans left early as the Tide fell behind by as many as 13 points in the second half, and trailed by as many as seven in the final two and a half minutes. And Davidson said, "We noticed a lot of them coming back. Someone must have stopped them in the lobby and told them what was happening."