College basketball: Alabama holds on after 19-point lead disappears
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Jan 25, 2014 | 1871 views |  0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant celebrates with Rodney Cooper (21) after Cooper's block sealed a Crimson Tide win over LSU. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant celebrates with Rodney Cooper (21) after Cooper's block sealed a Crimson Tide win over LSU. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
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TUSCALOOSA -- Alabama has mastered the art of making fans hold their breath down the stretch of games, and Saturday night against LSU was no different.

The Crimson Tide started out slow, then built a 19-point lead only to watch it dwindle away.

But this time, the Tide held on for an 82-80 victory over the Tigers in Coleman Coliseum in front of 12,061 fans. LSU hasn’t won in Coleman Coliseum since 2004.

“My thing is, those types of games, we’ve been in a lot of them throughout the course of this season,” Tide coach Anthony Grant said. “We haven’t been able to make a play or have the ball bounce or way or whatever it is. But we made our way today and that’s growth for this team. I’m happy for these guys and the fight they showed to be able to come out with the win.”

After missing a free throw that would have given the Tide a three-point lead, guard Rodney Cooper back peddled, positioned himself and blocked what would be a game-tying attempt by the Tigers to end the contest.

Along with Cooper’s block to end the game, a timely trap by senior guard Trevor Releford and guard Levi Randolph forced a turnover with the Tide leading 79-77. Releford got the steal and stepped to the line to make two free throws.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that our guys stuck together,” Grant said. “They got tougher at the end. To a man, they were all talking about getting stops. They did what they needed to do in the end.”

While Releford, who played the entire game, led the way with 21 points, it was the hot shooting of Cooper and forward Shannon Hale that propelled the Tide down the stretch.

Hale hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 37 seconds left, putting Alabama ahead 79-77. He finished with 17 points.

“That’s huge. It just shows how much heart he has a freshman,” Releford said. “To step up and hit a shot like that, that’s huge. Congrats to him for stepping up and taking it after he missed the one before that. He stepped up and had the pride and courage to do it again. I’m glad it went in.”

Cooper made four 3-pointers in the second half to finish with 19 points, 17 of which came in the final 20 minutes. Randolph also added 14 points.

“A lot of times we’ll kind of rely on Trevor to make those plays for us, so it was good to see other guys step up and take those shots and make those plays,” Grant said. “That’s growth. That’s what this team needs. Hopefully this will be something that will build confidence for our team as we move forward.”

The Tide built a 19-point lead in the second half, but the Tigers slowly chipped away and took a small lead. The Tigers exploded for 57 points after the intermission, shooting 58.8 percent (20-34) from the field and 62.5 percent (5-8) from 3-point range.

LSU turned up its defensive pressure to force 11 second half turnovers and converted those into 14 points. But in the end, Alabama made the plays when needed.

“They did a good job in the press,” Releford said. “We worked on it in practice and got to see it a little bit. But LSU, they were a different tempo and it was kind of frustrating. But we were able to keep fighting and push through to the end.”

Alabama (9-10, 3-3 SEC) will travel to Auburn (8-9, 0-6 SEC) on Wednesday to face the Tigers at 7 p.m.
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