Trevor Lacey’s final play of Alabama’s SEC tournament stuck to the script as the clock ticked toward elimination. The Charles Hankerson pass went straight into the open 3 and a shot at overtime.
All rim. No net.
The 66-63 quarterfinal loss to Florida means Alabama must wait for Sunday’s release of NCAA pairings instead of a rematch with No. 1 Kentucky today. The Crimson Tide never led, but came an inch or two from a second chance.
“It felt good, looked good,” Lacey said. “It was just a little short.”
The miss capped the last of Alabama’s furious comebacks on a day Florida couldn’t shake the Tide. JaMychal Green, whose 22 points led all scorers, missed a potential game-tying free throw with 20.3 seconds left before two Kenny Boynton foul shots set up the final sequence.
But, as it’s been all season, the 3-point shot was unkind to the Tide.
Still, Alabama (21-11) had its third-best shooting day since conference play started by making 53.3 percent of its attempts. Just about everything came close to the basket as low-post scoring favored the Tide 38-30. Add in the 12 free throws on 16 tries and Alabama managed little offense elsewhere.
Florida (23-9) was quite the opposite. Of the 20 shots it made, half came from 3-point range in 30 attempts.
Two perimeter shots in particular shifted the balance of the second half back in Florida’s favor. Alabama had just tied the game at 51 with six minutes left when Tide defenders fouled two Gator 3-point shooters in a 30-second span.
Erving Walker made all three free throws after Green’s foul. Following a Nick Jacobs turnover, Gator Scottie Wilbekin made his 3 but missed the foul shot when Steele’s defense was too tight.
“We stepped up our defensive intensity and they got in a rhythm where they made a couple shots,” Steele said. “We stepped up and tried to get them out of rhythm and force some misses and get out in transition.”
Freshman Bradley Beal had the hot hand in the first half. He was 3-for-4 from the perimeter before halftime, forcing the Tide to play catch up the whole time.
Fittingly, Beal was assigned to guard Lacey’s final 3-point shot of the game. He was at first confused when Lacey ran to the low block needing a 3, but he remembered coach Billy Donovan’s instructions to guard the shot without jumping and potentially fouling.
“I tried to stay on his back hip pocket and try to contest his shot as best I could,” said Beal, who finished with a team-high 16 points.
Early in the second half, such a scenario didn’t appear likely. The Gators jumped ahead by 12 with three 3-pointers in a 2-minute, 30-second period. The 14-4 Alabama run that followed was heavily influenced by Green.
The senior scored seven straight Tide points to tie the game at 49 while playing through constant double teams.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” Green said. “I think we just did a great job of passing the ball and playing as a team.”
Green was suspended when Florida dominated the second half of a 61-52 win in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 14. Beal said this was a different team they faced Friday.
“We were able to attack a lot better than what we did in the second game,” Beal said. “So I think he’s a big impact for the team.”
But the final foul shot that rimmed out was big in Green’s mind.
“Coming down to the free-throw line, I knew I had to step up and make it,” he said. “But unfortunately, it rimmed out.”
And Alabama went back to Tuscaloosa with another day to ponder what comes next.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for the Star. Follow him on Twitter @UARollTide_Star