Tide fall in final seconds

Anthony Grant and the Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball team (13-7, 3-5 SEC) dropped a heartbreaking last-second decision to Grant’s mentor, falling to the Florida Gators (16-6, 5-3 SEC) 66-65 in front of 10,845 fans in Coleman Coliseum.

“I thought it was a hard-fought game,” Grant said. “I thought the guys we had on the floor really battled and put their heart into trying to get the win. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it.”

The loss was especially crushing for Grant, who entered the contest with the chance to win his first head-to-head match up against Florida’s Billy Donovan. Grant was Donovan’s top assistant in Gainesville for ten seasons, recruiting the key cogs to the Gators’ back-to-back national championship seasons in 2005 and 2006. Grant spoke to Donovan for several minutes before the game, as well as to Donovan’s father.

“There’s a history, a relationship, that we have that’s beyond basketball,” Grant said. “Obviously, once the game starts, it’s a game just like any other.”

The Tide found significant success behind the three-point arc in the first half, netting 7-of-14 three-point attempts in the opening half, led by Mikhail Torrance’s 4-of-7 effort. Torrance finished the first half with 14 points to lead all scorers at half and finished the contest with 22.

After reaching a 34-26 advantage, the Tide was shut down on offense for the final five minutes of the first half, failing to score a bucket until the first-half buzzer when Tony Mitchell’s three-point shot gave Alabama a 37-33 lead at halftime.

“We had a lull there again…where we couldn’t score or find a good shot,” Grant said. “Their defense was causing us problems to find good looks at the rim in both halves.”

The pace slowed at the beginning of the second half, with Torrance netting the lone Tide field goal for either team in the first four minutes after the locker room break. Florida was equally unsuccessful with the teams combining to shoot a measly 25 percent in the time period.

Torrance and JaMychal Green broke the stalemate, the former with another clutch three-pointer and the latter with two hard-fought layups, pushing the Tide advantage to 46-40. Donovan’s squad didn’t give in, answering with a blistering two-minute 8-0 run to gain the lead, before Justin Knox pushed in a short bucket to tie the game at 48-48 with 11:40 left in the game.

The knock-down, drag-out brawl continued, with both teams heatedly fighting up and down both ends of the court, neither able to break away from the other. After the tie, Florida and Alabama stayed within two points of each other until the Gators’ Alex Tyus was fouled on a made layup and sunk his charity stripe shot to give the Gators a 60-56 lead with 4:29 remaining in the game. Tyus finished the contest with 19 to lead all Florida scorers.

After fighting back to within two, a Tide defensive lapse and turnover gave the Gators a four point advantage and possession before Anthony Brock stole the ball, drove down the court and made a layup, plus a foul shot, to pull Alabama within one with a minute left.

Seconds later, Green rebounded an errant Gator shot and dished the ball to Torrance, who drove down the court and floated the ball into the basket from the paint for a 65-64 lead with 38 seconds left in the game.

Needing one final defensive stand to earn a program-defining victory for its rookie head coach, the Tide was unable to stop Florida’s Erving Walker, who drove to the basket and stuck up a shot that slowly revolved around the rim before falling with 11 seconds left in the contest. After driving down the court, Alabama had a final inbounds pass with three ticks left on the clock, but Mitchell’s lob was slammed down the court, along with the hearts of the Tide faithful.

“I take full blame for that,” Grant said. “That one’s on me.”

The free throw was once again a thorn in Alabama’s side, with the Tide hitting only 57 percent of its charity stripe attempts in the second half after hitting a perfect 4-of-4 in the opening half.

“That’s part of the game,” Grant said. “We got to the line 18 times, which was good… we’ve got to do a better job of making our free throws when we get there.”

No Alabama players were available for post-game comment.

Alabama next takes the court in a road match against No. 25 Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.

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