After missing the Crimson Tide's game against Mississippi State earlier in the week with a sprained ankle, head coach Anthony Grant wasn't sure if he would be able to play Saturday against Texas A&M. But he did, and led the way with 15 points en route to a 50-49 victory.
Releford injured his ankle in Monday's practice and missed Wednesday's game against MSU. Friday afternoon, Grant said Releford still had some soreness and stiffness and that him playing against the Aggies would come down to pain tolerance. After the game, Releford made the injury seem like a non-factor.
"I went through practice yesterday and felt good and thought I could come out here and help the team," Releford said. "Coach was good with it and I was good with it and I just wanted to come out here and help my team win."
The junior point guard didn't start and didn't score a single point in the first half, but when his name was called in the second, something clicked.
"I made a comment to him and you could just see the fire and intensity in his eyes," Grant said. "He was locked in and he was ready to go and I don't think he came out after he went in."
Releford, who scored 15 points for the second consecutive game (against Tennessee and Texas A&M), was more aggressive after the break, getting into the lanes, scoring points in transition and making more plays.
"Sometimes as a player, you just need to see the ball go in once or twice," Grant said. "However he was able to get some of those layups that he got, whether it was off defensive stops or in transition, that created opportunities."
Releford wasn't the only one who played sloppy to start, it was the whole team (both teams, actually). Texas A&M controlled the tempo and took a 26-15 lead at the break. Then in the second half, Alabama picked up the pace, rushing to a 7-0 run while forcing three turnovers to cut the Aggies lead to 26-22 in less than two minutes.
"Our goal coming out of the half was just to chip away at it (the score)," Grant said. "We wanted to cut into it by the first media timeout. And two minutes into the game, our guys stepped up and made some plays and it was a different ball game."
After making just one steal in the first half, the Tide had nine in the second. The key, which sounds simple enough, was more hustle on defense, Grant said.
"Our defensive identity created an offense for us and before you knew it," Grant said while snapping his fingers three times, "we got momentum back in our favor and energy back in the building. Those first three or four minutes there really told a story."
Later, with nine seconds remaining and the Aggies up 49-48, Trevor Lacey hit a jump shot to put the Tide ahead 50-49. As time ticked away, Releford stole the ball away from freshman Alex Caruso and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but it didn't matter as Alabama ran out the final 0.4 seconds for its third conference win in a row.
"We found a way," Grant said. "What we talked about before the game is you have to stay the course. We knew it would be a 40-minute game."
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