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February 23, 2011TUSCALOOSA _ For 39 minutes and 59.7 seconds, the University of Alabama men's basketball team essentially couldn't do anything to get a shot to drop against Auburn at Coleman Coliseum.
Never mind 3-pointers, the entire team had combined for just 10 field goals. When the ball wasn't bouncing off the rim it was missing completely, and not only did that include the reigning SEC Player of the Week, sophomore forward Tony Mitchell, but pretty much everyone not named JaMychal Green.
However, it turned out that Alabama just needed one ball to drop, Green's tip-in off a Mitchell miss with .3 seconds remaining. That was the difference in the 51-49 victory that may have redefined the popular saying "ugly win."
"Again, we found a way," Coach Anthony Grant said. "I look at the numbers and I'm still trying to figure out how we did it."
While Alabama remained undefeated at home (15-0) and kept alive both its hopes for the Southeastern Conference's regular-season title and NCAA Tournament, no one saw this coming.
Granted, coming off Saturday's victory against Arkansas to clinch the Western Division, Alabama (19-8, 11-2 SEC) was understandably concerned about a potential letdown. This was more like the offense having a nuclear meltdown.
The only player outside of Green to make more than one shot was redshirt sophomore Andrew Steele, who went 2-for-5 and grabbed seven rebounds. Mitchell, senior forward Chris Hines, freshman guard Trevor Releford and reserve guard Senario Hillman all had one basket each while senior guard Charvez Davis missed all seven of his attempts. Combined, they were 5-for-26, while Releford had no assists and four turnovers.
"I think I beat myself," Releford said. "I wasn't me today. I wasn't attacking like I usually do."
"Our whole team, we were really out of sync," Grant added.
At one point of the first half the Tide had made just 2 of 17 shots (11.7 percent) and combined with Auburn going on a 17-2 run the sellout crowd of 15,338 was left stunned. A last-minute seven-point spurt, that included a 3-pointer from little used freshman guard Charles Hankerson, pulled Alabama to with 31-25.
The Tide made five field goals during the first 20 minutes, to go with 12 first-half turnovers after having 19 in the last two games combined. It was getting beat in the paint (16-6), off turnovers (14-8) and the transition game was non-existent.
"Play zone and hope they miss," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said was the strategy. "Seemed to work.
"But give them credit, they made the plays downs the stretch. I told my guys there's a big difference between playing hard and fouling."
In that one area Auburn put itself in an early hole, with five fouls in the opening minutes and eventually having 29. Alabama made 13 of 14 free throws in the first half, compared to 14 of 26 in the second, but while the Tigers started losing players the Tide kept chipping away.
Eventually, sophomore guard Earnest Ross, junior forward Kenny Gabriel and junior forward Adrian Forbes all fouled out along with reserve forward Rob Chubb _ while freshman guard Josh Langford was dangerously close.
"We fought to the end," said Ross, who led the Tigers (9-18, 2-11 SEC) with 10 points.
Yet as bad as Alabama's offense was in the first half, its defense was just as good in the second, creating 12 turnovers and yielding just five field goals. At one point the Tigers went 8:58 without a basket, and they totaled just 18 points in the second half.
"You look at the numbers for us, it equates to a loss," said Grant, but added about that defensive stretch, "That's probably what saved us."
The Tide didn't take its first lead, 44-43, until just 2:55 remained, but the game was still obviously touch-and-go. After Alabama called for a time out with 7 seconds left on the clock, Mitchell got free and made the move to the basket that Green finished. Auburn's heave down court, which bounced off the rim, wouldn't have counted because there wasn't enough time.
"I saw he was off-balance going up for the layup and just tried to follow," said Green, who was 4-for-11 but with nine free throws to finish with 17 points.
"It's been a long time since I won a game on a tip-in. It's a great feeling."