Anthony Grant looked at the rim, looked at the ball and then looked at the rim again. Eventually he saw Trevor Releford's 50-foot shot at the buzzer swish through the hoop to give Alabama a 61-58 win over Georgia Saturday afternoon.
Coleman Coliseum erupted. A few fans even rushed the court in disbelief. The PA announcer had to tell everyone to return to their seats because the play was under review (and also storming the court in the SEC can result in an expensive fine). It ended up counting, giving Alabama a 9-0 record in SEC play at home this season.
"When he let it go I wasn't sure it was going to make it there," Grant said. "It was kind of slow motion."
The game looked like it could head to overtime, but with a few ticks left on the clock, Releford heaved a Hail Mary.
"I recognized how much time was on the clock, got closer and let it go," Releford said.
Releford, who led Alabama with 19 points and three steals, said he had never made any type of half-court shot before and he doesn't even try them out in practice. He also admitted that though he felt the shot was on target, he thought it was going to be a little short.
As did senior guard Andrew Steele, who did not get to play in his Senior Day game due to a stress fracture in his ankle that will require post-season surgery.
"From the bench, I saw it was on target but I thought it would be short," he said. "When it went in I probably hurt my foot a little bit (while celebrating), but it was worth it."
Grant described the game perfectly in the post-game news conference by calling it a "tale of two halves." It was exactly that.
Alabama (20-11, 12-6) took a fast 13-3 lead in the first four minutes, draining its first three 3-pointers, two of which came from Releford. The Tide led by as many as 17 points and held a healthy 32-18 edge at halftime.
But Georgia (15-16, 9-9) quietly chipped away at the lead in the second half. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would eventually tie it up 58-58 on a 3-point shot with 46.9 seconds left. Alabama turned the ball over on its next possession, giving the Bulldogs a chance to win it. But Nick Jacobs came up with the steal in the paint and Releford got his hands on the ball and let it fly 50 feet.
"We had a lot of breakdowns in the end, but thankfully on the last possession, we locked in and got a stop," Grant said. "It was just a good heads-up play by Relly, to be aware of what he had.
"When we got the ball, I tried to look at the shot clock to see if we needed to call a timeout. I felt like, ‘Okay, we are going to go into overtime here.' And then when he let it go, you look at the trajectory and I said it's got a chance, and luckily for us, it went in. It was a big time shot and a great ending."
Releford, who couldn't hide his smile after the game, summed up the difference between the first and second halves.
"Playing with energy, then not playing with energy," he said.
The Tide held Caldwell-Pope, who is averaging 18.2 points per game, to four points in the first half. But Grant said he warned his team before the game that 30 percent of his scoring comes in the last five minutes. In this particular game, seven of Caldwell-Pope's 14 total points came in the last five minutes, including the game-tying trey.
Being a top 4 seed in the tournament was one of Alabama's goals all season because rather than playing four games in a row, the Tide could potentially just play three. The extra day of rest is an advantage, Grant said.
As far as who can win the tournament, Grant has no predictions.
"I think anybody can win it, I do," he said. "I think it's a wide open tournament. We gotta come in locked in and prepared."
Watch Releford's buzzer beater, thanks to ESPN:
Watch Alabama fans storm the court after the shot, then return to their seats:
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