Alabama might have popped its NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Crimson Tide, ranked second in the SEC, just one game behind Florida, had taken control of its destiny as of late. All the team had to do was win its final five games of the regular season and they could have been a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and snuck into the NCAA Tournament.
But Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge, the Tide threw it all away. Bama was up by 10 with 2:52 left in regulation when the Tigers went on a 10-0 run to tie the game and force overtime. Alabama (19-9, 10-4 SEC) ended up losing to LSU 97-94 in triple overtime.
The Tide has had some bad losses this season—think Dayton, Mercer, Tulane, Auburn—but this one ranks up there because Alabama had so many chances to put the game away and it was a must-win on the road. They were up 10 with less than three minutes to go, but no one could make a shot or a stop.
Alabama looked like it had won the game at the end of the first overtime when Rodney Cooper tipped in Trevor Releford’s missed jumper at the buzzer. The team began to celebrate, but after a review, officials said time expired before the basket.
Cooper, who scored 18 points, had several key baskets in the three overtimes, including a 3-pointer with 15.9 seconds left in the second overtime that tied the game 88-88.
In the third overtime, Anthony Hicky drained a 3 from the right corner to put the Tigers up 94-90 with 1:19 left. Releford hit a jumper, was fouled, but missed the free throw. Then Johnny O’Bryant III, who led LSU with 24 points, was fouled by Cooper and made both shots to seal the win, wrapping up a long day of basketball. The Tigers have now won six of their last eight games.
Alabama had to play all three overtime periods without center Moussa Gueye, who fouled out late in regulation. Levi Randolph would eventually foul out, too.
Releford scored a career-high 36 points. He was 14-of-18 from the field, a perfect 4-of-4 from the perimeter and went 4-of-5 from the free throw line. He also had three steals, which bumped his career total to 178—a new program all-time record, overtaking the title from Senario Hillman, who had 176 in four seasons.
With Alabama up 10 with 3:30 left in regulation, Charles Carmouche hit a pair of free throws, Shavon Coleman knocked down two more and O’Bryant scored inside, making the score 69-65.
Suddenly there were two minutes left.
O’Bryant missed his free throw, but the Tigers rebounded and Carmouche made a layup to make it a two-point game. Then with 54 seconds left, O’Bryant hit two free throws to tie things up. He almost had the game-winning jumper, too, but Alabama made a crucial defensive stop in the final seconds.
LSU (16-9, 7-7) had more rebounds (47-38), assists (19-9) and points in the paint (44-34) than Alabama.
Now the Tide must finish out the regular season strong, have a good showing at the SEC Tournament and wait to hear their NCAA Tournament fate.
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