ATHENS, Ga. — On a day when off-the-court news cast a shadow on a feel-good season, the distractions were evident in Georgia's game. So were the absent players.
Missed layups and free throws were costly as No. 20 Georgia suffered its first Southeastern Conference loss of the season, falling 77-72 to No. 16 Alabama.
Playing before its second straight sellout crowd of 10,523 at Stegeman Coliseum, Georgia never led but had its chances late in the game.
Ultimately, the suspensions of two players, announced less than three hours before the game, and two days of speculation about a rape investigation, took a toll.
"I think all of us were emotionally upset, and it showed, I guess,'' said Jarvis Hayes.
"The hardest thing about today's game was it was tough to focus a little bit, but we'll get it back.''
Georgia pulled to within one point three times in the final 5:26, the last time with 57 seconds left, but a tip by Erwin Dudley and two free throws by Antoine Pettway clinched Alabama's rare road victory.
Alabama (15-3 overall and 3-1 in the SEC) now is 3-23 in SEC road games under fourth-year coach Mark Gottfried.
Georgia coach Jim Harrick stuck with his five starters the entire second half until Ezra Williams, who scored a game-high 24 points, had the breath knocked out of him trying to break up a basket with eight-tenths of a second left.
Earlier Wednesday, Harrick decided that starting power forward Steve Thomas and backup point guard Tony Cole had been suspended while they are part of the University of Georgia Police Department's investigation of an alleged rape on campus Monday night.
Thomas and Cole were not in uniform but were on the bench.
"I think that until all the factors are in, it was the best thing to do,'' said Harrick, who added "I believe in them with all my heart. ... We've got to have a (police) report. I'm waiting to see what they will say.''
Also suspended Wednesday was cornerback Brandon Williams of the football team.
Georgia athletics director Vince Dooley said "I support the decisions'' of Harrick and football coach Mark Richt to suspend the players, who have not been charged.
"If they had been charged with a felony, they would be off the team,'' Dooley added before declining further comment.
Georgia made only 22 of 33 free throws (66.7 percent) and was outrebounded 48-38.
Alabama also was handicapped by Terrance Meade's early foul trouble. Meade was limited to seven minutes, scoring five points — seven below his average. "They lose a big player (to the suspension) and we lose a big player to foul trouble,'' Gottfried said. "A lot of guys stepped up.''
Rod Grizzard led Alabama with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Antoine Pettway added 15. Jarvis Hayes followed Williams with 16 points for Georgia (14- 3 overall, 3-1 SEC).
Jonas Hayes made his first start for Thomas and played well, scoring 14 points with a game-high 14 rebounds.
The distractions of the day may have played as big a role as the sudden reduction in depth as Georgia struggled early in the game, managing only one field goal in the first five minutes.
Georgia fell behind by 12 points at 28-16, thanks to a 3-pointer by Grizzard, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Williams helped keep the Bulldogs close.
Despite trailing 39-32 at the half, Georgia's good news at the break was that it had no player with more than two fouls.
The Bulldogs trailed only 56-53 with 10:38 left to play before the Crimson Tide found a hot shooting touch. Pettway sank two 3-pointers and Grizzard added another as a 9-1 run for Alabama pushed the lead back to double figures at 65-54.
As was the case in the first half, two 3-pointers by Williams helped pull the Bulldogs back. Williams made two free throws with 5:26 left, closing the deficit to one point at 67-66 and prompting Alabama coach Mark Gottfried to call a timeout.
With the sellout crowd standing and encouraging the Georgia defense, Reggie Rambo made big basket inside and Mo Williams scored after stealing a pass from Chris Daniels, pushing the lead back to five points.