TUSCALOOSA — Cracking a smile in final moments of double overtime, Alabama coach Anthony Grant shot a glance at Andrew Steele. And he pointed.
The giggling junior earned it late Saturday night.
His loose ball scoop and shot clock-beating jumper with 31.5 seconds remaining in double overtime clinched Alabama’s heart-stopping 69-67 win over Ole Miss. It capped a frantic end to a night when the Crimson Tide’s season seemed to hang in the balance following four losses in five games.
Steele said he saw three seconds on the shot clock when the ball was poked free from point guard Trevor Releford.
“He lost it, but he got in such great position, when I got it, it put me in great position to take a good shot,” Steele said.
Sophomore Charles Hankerson also rescued Alabama (15-7, 4-4 SEC) from life support in the second half when Ole Miss jumped ahead 41-34. He scored five straight and made one of Alabama’s three 3-pointers midway through the second half.
Coach Anthony Grant said he was unsure if Hankerson would play at all Saturday after undergoing minor knee surgery Monday. He scored 10 points.
“Just the emotion and how hard (Hankerson) played really rubbed off on the rest of us,” Steele said.
Trailing by as many as 10 in the first half, visions of its Vanderbilt collapse was replayed for the 12,711 in Coleman Coliseum. But the bench responded with 34 points to the starters’ 35 and 12 of the 15 in the overtime periods.
Steele and Trevor Releford contributed huge defensive plays in the 10 bonus minutes for an Alabama team that scored 16 points off the 17 Ole Miss turnovers.
Alabama missed potential game-winning fade-aways in regulation and the first overtime. Freshman Levi Randolph had one bounce off from the baseline closing the second half and JaMychal Green’s attempt was blocked at the end of regulation.
Releford had a game-saving play just before Green’s miss to end overtime when Rebel Jarvis Summers appeared to break free for a layup in the closing seconds.
Trailing on the play, Releford poked the ball away to give the Tide one final shot. He had five steals and seven points.
Green, the leading scorer with 16, fouled out in the second overtime when Mitchell and Steele scored every point except Releford’s final free throw. Mitchell had 14 in his best scoring night since a 17-point night in the SEC opener at Georgia.
He did it coming off the bench for the first time this season. He entered nearly six minutes in when Green picked up his second foul. Late in the first half, though, Mitchell took a shot to the face and had to be helped to the locker room.
“The medical staff said we needed to limit him there early in the second half,” Grant said. “I think by the 10-minute mark of the second half we got clearance that he was cleared to go back.”
A few of the high-flying dunks that typified his hot early-season run helped spark the Tide upon his return. His slam with 2:20 left in double overtime gave Alabama its final lead of the night.
The first half wasn’t quite as pretty for the Tide.
Alabama went nearly six minutes without points as Ole Miss (14-8, 4-4 SEC) scored 11 straight.
Interestingly, the Tide drought began after a tomahawk dunk from Tony Mitchell that used to be the catalyst for a scoring run.
Ole Miss led by as many as 10 in the half when it shot 56 percent. Only Dayton had a better shooting half against Alabama when the Flyers were 64-perecent successful in a Dec. 7 win.
“Just watching the game, we had a level of frustration because we weren’t making shots and we were settling for shots,” Grant said.
The Tide was 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the half and finished 3-for-16. But it didn’t another perimeter jumper after Rodney Cooper made one with 7:41 left.
Alabama now hits the road for an 8 p.m., Tuesday game at Auburn. A trip to LSU on Saturday will be followed by playing four of the final six in Coleman Coliseum.