It was nothing but the rim for Trevor Lacey.
Down 58-57, Alabama had the ball with 3.1 seconds left. Lacey caught a pass 15 feet from the basket and heaved up a potential game-winning shot. But it was all rim and glass. Final score: Maryland 58, Alabama 57.
It was the second straight year that the Crimson Tide’s season ended in a 58-57 loss. Last year Alabama lost to Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after Trevor Releford missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Now the Terrapins get to take a trip to New York City and play at Madison Square Garden while the Tide stays in Tuscaloosa.
Before that final shot, Alabama had more time left—19.1 seconds to be exact. The final play was supposed to end up in Releford’s hands, but as head coach Anthony Grant described after the game, Maryland’s defense wouldn’t allow it.
After several tries to get Releford the ball, Alabama went to Rodney Cooper, who put up a shot, but was blocked by Maryland’s 7-foot-1 center, Alex Len. He swatted the ball out of bounds, leaving 3.1 seconds on the clock once the Tide inbounded.
Lacey got a hold of it and let it fly. Buzzer. Game over.
“It was a pretty good look but unfortunately for us it didn’t go in,” Grant said.
Alabama (23-13) trailed by 10 points early in the second half, but cut the deficit to one after Cooper made a layup in transition with 4:56 to play. But Maryland (25-12) responded with three straight treys to go up 57-49 with 3:18 left.
That run didn’t tarnish the Tide’s confidence. They held the Terps to one point for the rest of the game, but unfortunately could not finish things off at the end.
“Our guys never stopped fighting, never quit, and that gave us a chance at the end,” Grant said. “As a coach, all you can ask for is a chance.”
Levi Randolph led Alabama with 15 points in the loss. Cooper added 13 and Releford had 11, plus two steals. Len led Maryland with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Now Alabama turns its focus to next year. Every player that stepped on the court for the Crimson Tide tonight will return next season.
“We have a team full of guys that will be returning next year,” Grant said. “Now the challenge is, how do you get better? Our success will be based on the improvement we show from now until next year.”
In the post-game news conference, Grant was asked, of all the good and bad that happened over this roller coaster season, what was the best of the good and the worst of the bad?
Essentially, he said the worst was the month of December—the hole the team dug itself by losing games to Dayton, Mercer and Tulane. That, paired with injuries to senior guard Andrew Steele and junior center Carl Engstrom, changed the dynamic of the team.
The best, he said, was that his players never waivered in terms of their effort or focus.
“Now, do we learn from it? Are we better because of it?” Grant asked. “[Future success] is going to require us to really look at where we need to get better, individually and collectively. It’s going to be about putting the work in between now and next season … The experiences we went through this season won’t matter if we don’t take it upon ourselves to learn from them.”
And this learning process that will take place over the “offseason” doesn’t just apply to the players.
“For me, it’s the same thing,” Grant said. “Where can we get better? What do I need to do as a coach to help our team achieve the things that we want to achieve? I’m no different than them. The thing I asked them to do is the same thing I’ll do.”
Coleman Coliseum was rocking all night. The announced attendance of 9,479 seemed much larger with all the energy in the building. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon called the atmosphere “fantastic.” Grant called it “electric.”
After the loss, the remaining fans gave the players a standing ovation as they exited the court.
The bright side for Alabama is, this was a young squad. And with everyone returning, if they can learn from the lessons learned this year, they will be a better group next year.
“Next year starts with our choices and decisions and work ethic habits right now,” Grant said. “Not in October or when the games start in November. It’s right now. Hopefully the message went through.”
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