The Crimson Tide's Trevor Releford hit a one-handed, running, high-arcing half-court shot at the buzzer Saturday afternoon to beat Georgia 61-58. He let the shot fly so close to the clock hitting zero, the officials asked to see a TV replay before ruling it good.
"I knew it was on target," Releford said, "but I thought it would be a little bit short."
With the win, Alabama (20-11, 12-6 SEC) clinched the No. 4 seed for this week's league tournament in Nashville. The Crimson Tide will open tournament play Friday at 2:30 p.m. in a quarterfinal game. Alabama will play the winner of a Thursday game between Tennessee and either Mississippi State or South Carolina.
"I was watching the ball, then looked at the rim, then was watching the ball," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "I thought it had a chance. Then when it went through, my first thought was, 'Did he get it off in time?'"
Releford's miracle 3-pointer more than made up for his turnover inside the final minute. Alabama had the ball with the score tied 58-58, but Georgia's Charles Mann stole the ball from a stumbling Releford.
Georgia tried to charge down court, but Releford tipped the ball out of bounds, allowing Alabama time to to set up its defense. With no timeouts remaining, the Bulldogs bled down the clock, and with about seven seconds left, Mann drove into the lane. Alabama's Nick Jacobs tried to draw a charging foul from Mann, who lost the ball when he ran into the Tide player. Alabama guard Rodney Cooper picked up the loose ball with about three seconds to play and shoveled it quickly to Releford, who took off downcourt with Georgia's Donte' Williams giving chase.
With Williams trying to block his line of sight from the left, Releford let the ball fly just before he reached the large script "A" in the middle of the Coleman Coliseum floor. Releford landed on the "A" just before the ball zipped through the net.
He said he had no doubt he released the ball before the clock ran down, but the officials required a brief delay to check the replay. When they ruled the shot good, students stormed the court, likely drawing a fine for the school from the Southeastern Conference, which has rules against that sort of fun.
Georgia's coaches and players stood stunned as their fight back from a 14-point second-half deficit didn't produce a win.
Asked about the final shot, Georgia coach Mark Fox shook his head for several moments, took a sip from a water bottle and said, "When he let it go at half court ... you never know. You never know."
Georgia's Brandon Morris told reporters afterward he thought it was going in when it left Releford's hand: "He lined it up straight."
Alabama's victory came during its final regular-season home game, as the school honored senior Andrew Steele. In addition, the Crimson Tide celebrated its 100th year of basketball on campus, bringing back more than 60 former players and coaches, including former Alabama head coaches C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson.
Steele, a fan favorite for the way he has dealt with an injury-plagued career, didn't appear in this one because of an ankle injury.
"From the bench, I saw Trevor's shot was on target," he said. "When it went in, I probably hurt my foot a little because I got so excited. It was worth it."
Releford wound up with 19 points, two assists and three steals to lead Alabama, while Jacobs added 11 points. For Georgia, Nemanja Djurisic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 14, while Mann -- who went for that final Georgia shot -- had three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
For much of the game, it didn't appear Alabama would need a buzzer-beater to win. The Tide led 32-18 at halftime and had a 14-point advantage with 17:45 to play. But the offense struggles that have bothered Alabama all season reared up again. Georgia cut the advantage to 10 with 9:50 to play and steadily chipped away from there.
With 57 seconds left, Georgia trailed 58-53 before Mann hit a basket, drew a foul and missed the foul shot. Teammate Nemanja Djurisic grabbed the rebound and worked the ball to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who buried a 3-pointer to tie the game and set up the wild finish.
"I'm happy to get the win," Grant said. "But the coach in me won't let me overlook the breakdowns that led to that. I don't feel it should've come down to that."
Contact Mark Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-235-3570.