Pettway performs in the clutch

Down two points with only nine seconds on the clock, Alabama stared defeat--and the end of its home-winning streak--in the face. <br><br>Offensively the Tide had struggled mightily for most of the game, and fans frankly wondered at Bama's chances.

As the horn sounded to end the time out, the plan was for point guard Mo Williams to bring the ball up the court, driving all the way to the basket. For his part, Williams was determined to take the final shot. But Antoine Pettway had a last-second message. "I told Mo, ‘They're expecting you to take the last shot. If you're open, shoot it, but drive my way. If they come to you, then I'm going to make the shot. Least-ways we're going to go to (overtime)."

Williams took the in-bounds pass and dribbled through traffic past the half-court line. But as he approached the top of the key, sure enough Pettway's prediction proved true. Several Bulldog defenders ran at Williams, taking away his options. So Williams calmly moved to "Plan B," dishing to Antoine Pettway on the baseline, who then easily drove in for the layup, tying the score at 55-55 and sending the game into overtime.

Pettway has developed into a clutch three-point shooter. (Kent Gidley, UofA)

"I wanted to shoot the 3-pointer and tell everybody to go home, but they weren't having that," Pettway related. "The defender came out there, which opened up a wide-open lane to the goal. I just made the layup, thank God."

Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried had seen it before. "I thought Antoine made a wise play in not settling for a jump shot and taking that thing strong to the basket. He had great concentration and he had a great finish."

In overtime the Tide took care of business, scoring the first six points, while pulling away to a thrilling 68-62 win.

For Alabama, Wednesday's contest was one of the most exciting games in recent Coleman Coliseum memory. But for super-sub Antoine Pettway, it was just another ho-hum day at the office.

Game after game Bama's "Mr. Clutch" continues to make the big play when needed. Whether he's draining a three-pointer, coming up with a key steal or just generally pumping up the volume for fans and his teammates, Pettway performs.

"He's such a competitor," Gottfried said. "He's got great heart, and he's not afraid to make a big play. That's what you want in a player, and he's done that for us so many times."

Statistically, Pettway's accomplishments this season are impressive enough. Despite coming off the bench, he still averages 24.4 minutes a game--fourth best on the team. His .433 field goal percentage is third on the squad, trailing only post players Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker. Pettway's 37 assists are second only to Mo Williams, who averages more minutes than his running mate. And the diminutive man in the cherry-red shoes is either first or tied for first in steals (20), three-point shooting (.441) and free throw percentage (.840).

Pettway's 37 assists trail only Mo Williams. (GettyImages)

But don't expect the former walk-on to take any credit. "My role is whatever it takes to try and help my team win," Pettway explained. "We want team over individual."

Providing instant offense or defense off the bench, whichever is needed, Pettway plays the game with so much enthusiasm that opposing coaches insist it's got to be illegal.

"We try to be a spark for the team," Pettway acknowledged. "Sometimes I'll hit a trey and then Mo will hit one. That also picks us up on the defensive end. We work on pressuring the ball and executing our offense. When we execute our offense, we feel like good things will happen."

Execution, of course, is the key. Too often the Tide will sink into an offensive funk, going long stretches without any real point production at all. "We know we still haven't played that perfect game," Pettway said. "We're still practicing every day and working hard. We may never play the perfect game, but we're trying to get better and better. Each game you're trying to improve rather than digress."

This year's Tide team has a long way to go offensively, but tenacious defense has become its trademark. Pettway commented, "Every night your shots are not going to fall, but as a team we stress defense. We preach every day in practice that every night your defense can be constant. You can pressure the ball every night. You can cut off the passing lanes every night.

"Our offense may not always be clicking, but our defense can click the whole night. Coach Gottfried tells us to bring our defensive pressure every night. Alabama basketball is defined by defense."

Several frontline players, including Kenny Walker, Terrance Meade and Earnest Shelton, have been maddeningly inconsistent on the offensive end. But according to Gottfried a new star seems to emerge every night.

Pettway is one of the grittiest competitors on the squad. (Associated Press)

"One of the reasons why we're winning is we've got different guys that can step up," Gottfried said. "We've had nights when Kenny Walker, Erwin (Dudley), Mo (Williams) and Earnest Shelton and (Antoine) Pettway have stepped up on different nights. That's the sign of a good team.

"If you're one-dimensional or two-dimensional, especially in this league, then I don't think you're going to have a lot of success."

Bama's last loss was to Vanderbilt in Nashville, and Saturday's road match-up promises to be even tougher. Auburn is 14-2 overall and has won its last eight straight games. The Tigers are 3-0 in conference, sitting atop the SEC standings with wins against Vanderbilt (62-59), at Arkansas (52-37) and at South Carolina (67-60).

"We're going down there focused with the mindset that we're going to get a win," Pettway related. "We know it's going to be 10,000+ (fans) against us, so everybody has to pull his load. On road games we tell each other before we go out that the bench is all we've got. We want everybody standing the whole time. We have confidence in each other. We know we can get it done."

Tip-off in Auburn's Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum is set for 3 p.m. CT. The game is a sellout. The game is being televised by Jefferson Pilot Sports. The announcing team includes Tom Hammond, who will call the play-by-play, and Larry Conley, who will be the game's color analyst.


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