Steele, Releford Lead Second Half Success

Poor teams hope to steal a game. How about Steele a game? Andrew Steele, just back in the last week from injury, keyed a late-game Alabama spurt to help Alabama defeat Tennessee, 68-65, in a battle of not-so-hot teams. It was a game both teams thought they might win, one of precisous few either will have a chance in.

Alabama and Tennessee swapped leads for most of the game until Andrew Steele had a six-point, one-assist burst down the stretch and Trevor Releford, who scored all of his points in the second half, made a pair of clutch free throws for the Crimson Tide to get the victory.

Alabama is now 9-6 overall, 1-1 in Southeastern Conference play, while the Volunteers fell to 8-6 and 0-2 in SEC games.

The game was on Alabama's home court, and there were more Crimson Tide fans on hand than Tennessee fans. But the Vols could have had almost a majority if they had showed up to buy tickets. It should have been a perfect day for a sellout – noon start, weather too bad to do outdoor events, students back from Christmas break, Bama fans excited about football championship, and Alabama vs. Tennessee. Uh uh. Attendance was well under the announced crowd of 12,093.

Alabama shot only 26.7 per cent from the field (8-30) in the first half, but came back to shoot 15-24 (62.5 per cent) in the second half for 42.6 per cent (23-54) for the game. Meanwhile, the Vols hit 26-55 for 47.3 per cent. Bama made 6-14 on three-point shots (42.9 per cent), while the Volunteers made 5-5 (33.3 per cent). Alabama made 16-10 on free throws (84.2 per cent), while Tennessee was only 8-16 (50 per cent). Tennessee had a big advantage in rebonds, 40-25. The Vols had 16 offensive boards.

Randolph and Rodney Cooper had three assists each as Bama had 12, Tennessee 7. Bama forced 16 turnovers (and scored 19 points off those turnovers) while the Tide had 7 turnovers (Tennessee getting 12 points. Bama had 10 steals, the Volunteers only 2. The bigger Vols had a 30-18 margin on points in the p;aint and a 10-6 edge in second chance points, but the Tide was better on fast break points, 10-2.

The score was tied 11 times and there were 10 lead changes. Tennessee had an eight-point lead in the first half, while Bama's biggest margin – seven points – came in the second half.

Steele came off the bench to score 11 point on 3-4 from the field (1-1 trey) and 4-4 free throws and had four steals. Trevor Lacey and Releford had 15 points each and Levi Randolph had 12 points.

Tennessee was led by Jordan McRae with 21 points and Trae Golden, who came off the bench to score eight.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "My message to my team tonight was that our fight, our heart in the second half made me very proud. We're going to need that the rest of the season. I thought the story was the passion and heart we showed in the second half."

Steele said, "The press is something we take pride in. We want to turn our defense into offense. I thought it (the second half improvement) started with Trevor's great start."

Alabama will be at Mississippi State at 8 p.m. CST Wednesday and return to Coleman Coliseum to host Texas A&M at 5 p.m. next Saturday. The game against the Aggies will be number 2,500 in the history of Crimson Tide basketball.

Trevor Releford, coming off a career high 26 points in a loss at Missouri Tuesday, did not have a point in the first half. He scored eight in quick succession to start the second half and enable Bama to come from a four-point halftime deficit to a lead just over four minutes into the second half. Releford finished with 15 points, including two clutch free throws in the final eight seconds.

Steele, Bama's only senior, missed seven games with a sports hernia injury. In his third game back he keyed the Tide's winning drive. With 3:41 to play he made a pair of free throws to give Alabama the lead at 56-55. Alabama forced on turnover with its press and Steele hit a short jumper with 3:25 to play. Steele made a steal on the press, went for the layup and was fouled. He made both shots for a 60-55 lead with 3:12 to play. Six points in 29 seconds. And moments later he made the steal out of the press, got the ball ahead to Releford, who made the layup for a 62-55 lead.

Tennessee's Golden was tough as the Vols tried to come back, making two short shots and a free throw to close the gap to 62-60.

Lacey then connected on a nice jumper while cross the free throw line for a four-point Tide lead with a minute and a half to play. Moments later Lacey got a long rebound and took it down for a lay-up.

Bama gave up a layup to McRae (making it Bama 66, Tennessee 55), ran the clock down to under 30, and survivived a missed shot by the Vols with 7.5 seconds to play. Releford made his free throws and Golden's desperation trey to tie the game at the buzzer went off the rim.

It looked as though the game might be tied at the end of the first half. The Vols had a 26-24 lead with Bama having what seemed to be the last shot opportunity. To be sure, Alabama almost never converts that opportunity, but with 5.1 seconds to play, Tennessee fouled Trevor Lacey. Lacey, however, missed the first half of the one-and-one opportunity. And then, to add to the futlity of the last chance opportunity, Lacey fouled on a desperation three-point shot by UT's Jordan McRae, who made two free throws to give the Vols a 28-24 lead at intermission.

Alabama started the game with three-point shots by Lacey and Rodney Coopr on the first three opportunities, then missed 10 consecutive shots. Despite that, Bama trailed by only 13-10. Moments later, though the Vols had a 20-12 lead.

Alabama then ran off 10 consecutive points, keyed by Levi Randolph's two three-pointers, to lead 22-20 before the end game gave Tennessee the halftime lead.

TIDE NOTES: Alabama starters were Trevor Lacey, Trevor Releford, Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, and Nick Jacobs.

Tennessee is one of the SEC opponents Alabama will play twice this season. The Tide returns the game to Knoxville in two weeks, on Jan. 26.

The game was the 140th in Alabama-Tennessee basketball history, the Vols ranking as the fifth most common opponent for Bama. The Tide now has a 75-65 lead in the series, including 43-17 in games played in Tuscaloosa, and 26-8 in Coleman Coliseum.

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