Alabama scratched out a 78-76 win over Georgia in Coleman Coliseum in a game in which the Crimson Tide had to overcome a red-hot start by the Bulldogs. Georgia hit its first six shots, three of them three-pointers, to jump out to a 15-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game.
Alabama was able to climb out of that hole. Georgia may look back at some sloppy officiating as it reflects on one that got away. The Bulldogs were in a precarious position when a curious official's call gave Bama the ball for the final shot in a tie game.
Bama could ill-afford a home loss after opening Southeastern Conference play with a 1-2 record. The Crimson Tide evened its SEC record as Alabama improved to 15-3 on the season. Georgia fell to 11-6 overall and 3-2 in SEC play.
Alabama, which was ranked 10th in the nation this week, is back on the road next week, facing Auburn at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Ronald Steele is obviously handicapped as he attempts to play through knee and ankle injuries, but he lived up to pre-season billing with an All-America performance in the final minutes.
Alabama was down by 11 points with just over four minutes to play when Steele, who had only five points in the first 35-plus minutes drilled a long three-pointer to pull Alabama to within eight points at 73-65. Alonzo Gee made a layup and a couple of free throws and Brandon Hollinger and Mykal Riley made two foul shots each to get the Tide back to within one with 1:32 to play.
Takais Brown made a layup to give the Bulldogs a three-point margin at 76-73. Steele then made his second three-pointer of the second half, tying the score with 52 seconds to play.
Excellent Alabama defense resulted in a poor desperation shot by Georiga's Sundiata Gaines. It appeared that the ball did not touch the rim before the 35-second shot clock expired and referee Tom Lopes blew his whistle and called the shot clock violation, which gave the ball to Alabama.
As an exercise in futility, the officials then huddled over a replay monitor to see what had happened on the shot. It really didn't matter. If the shot did not hit the rim, it was a shot clock violation, ball to Alabama. If the shot did hit the rim, it was an inadvertent whistle, which means the team with the possession error gets the ball. Bama had the possession error.
It is unusual for officials to comment on their work, but referee Tom Lopes issued a statement after the game. He said:
"I blew the whistle inadvertently, because from my angle the ball didn't hit the rim and it looked like a shot-clock violation. We went over to the TV monitor to chedk for a timing error and looked at three angles. With the first two angles, the ball didn't hit the rim, but the third angle showed the ball nicked the rim. When we noticed that, the ball becomes dead on my whistle. Because no team had possession of the ball at the time of the whistle, you go to the possession arrow."
Alabama trailed by 15 points at halftime, 50-35. It was the second consecutive game Bama's defense has given up 50 or more points in the first half. Georgia shot 56.7 per cent from the field in the first half on 17-30 shooting, including making 9-15 three-point shots for 60 per cent.
Considering that, there were two oddities in the game. One was that Alabama went to a zone defense. The other was that Georgia altered its offensive play, slowing down considerably from the fast pace that had given the Bulldogs the big lead.
And in the second half,Georgia made just one three-point shot in seven attempts. The Bulldogs who had 50 first half points had just 26 in the second half. Meanwhile, Bama's offense picked up. The Tide shot better from the field in the second half than Georgia had in the first half as Bama was good on 12 of 21 shots, 57.1 per cent.
Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried, who celebrated his 42nd birthday Saturday, expects his team to shoot a lot of free throws, and foul shots proved to be the deciding factor in the game. Georgia scored four more field goals and one more three-point field goal than Alabama for a nine-point advantage from the field. But Bama hit 21 of 27 free throws while Georgia made 10 of 13.
Bama was led in scoring by Gee with 21 points. Riley had 17 (14 of them in the second half), Jermareo Davidson 16, and Steele 13.
Alabama spent much of the second half with four guards in the lineup, Brandon Hollinger in and Davidson and Richard Hendix rotating.
Gottfried said, "We were down in a hole, struggling. We could have shut it down. But our guys didn't do that. A lot of guys made big shots. Ron Steele made an unbelievable shot."
Gottfried said, "The worst thing that could happen was that we were going to go to overtime, and I thought the way we had been playing (in the second half) that we would play great in overtime. But I'm glad Ron made it."
The Tide coach said, "We've got to get our defense better. But there were times when it was good and Georgia made the shots. They were fantastic. It seems like we're catching a dose of everyone's best."
Steele admitted that his players teased him that he may have gotten away with a walk on his final shot. He said it was a set play. "We ran the play where Richard (Hendrix) comes up and sets the screen. He set a great screen. His man helped out and tied me up for a second. I guess he thought the play was over. I was able to spin out and get the shot off.
"that was probably the worst shot we could have gotten. It was not a high percentage shot. But it felt good, and I thought it could go."
Steele said the sell-out crowd of 15,316 was important to the comeback win.
It was announced that John Dill, a junior walk-on, has been placed on scholarship for this semester only. The 6-8, 250-pound forward has seen only spot duty. The son of former Tide player Johnny Dill started his career at Sewanee before transferring to Bama last year.