(2) Maryland 58 (1) Alabama 57
The Alabama Crimson Tide were outplayed by the Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Coach Anthony Grant’s team just didn’t have its best stuff in the final game of the season at Coleman Coliseum. Win or lose, Alabama knew that this was going to be its last game at Coleman until November of 2013, but the Crimson Tide had hoped that this match with Maryland would lead to a spot in the NIT’s final four next Tuesday in New York. However, it’s Maryland which will make the trip to the Big Apple. Alabama’s season is over.
With the Tide trailing by one point, Alabama executed an effective inbounds play that began with 3.1 seconds left. The Tide’s Trevor Lacey was able to make a catch on the left wing. He faked out his Maryland defender and created a clean look from 17 feet with an unbothered shooting hand. However, the shot didn’t drop, and visions of another trip to New York – following a run to the 2011 NIT championship game against Wichita State – died on the Tide’s home floor. Yet, in many ways, it was impressive that Alabama even had a chance to win the game in the first place. The top seed in this NIT subregional was constantly fighting an uphill battle against its second-seeded opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Maryland grabbed a 38-28 lead with 16:20 left in regulation. Alabama chipped away and reduced its deficit to 40-36 at the 12:36 mark of the second half. Maryland built its lead back to 57-49 with under four minutes left in regulation, but Alabama made another charge up the mountain, taking advantage of careless Maryland ballhandling, a problem that has dogged the Terps and head coach Mark Turgeon all season long.
Alabama mounted an 8-1 run in the fires of crunch time, as both Rodney Cooper and Nick Jacobs scored old-fashioned “hoop and harm” three-point plays to slice into Maryland’s scoreboard cushion. When Trevor Releford made a layup with 47 seconds left on the clock, just eight seconds after Maryland’s Dez Wells turned the ball over, Alabama had pulled within one, at 58-57. When Maryland’s Alex Len – the best player on the floor in this game (15 points, 13 rebounds) – missed two foul shots with 27 seconds left and Bama’s Levi Randolph (15 points) got the rebound, the Tide – seemingly dead a few minutes earlier – found a chance to win. Cooper found a driving lane on the left side of the paint, and he got within three feet of the rim, but Len was there to block his layup attempt. Alabama ran a really good set to put Cooper in open space, but the problem with the Tide’s offense in that sequence was that the team waited too long to initiate action. Had Alabama attempted that layup with nine seconds left instead of four, Grant’s guys would have had more than 3.1 seconds left on the subsequent inbounds play. Lacey – who did get a clean look from 17 feet – might have had a chance to drive into the lane for a layup or an eight-foot floater. This is admittedly a bit of nit-picking in the NIT, but small details – which kept Alabama from beating Florida late in the season and punching a ticket to the NCAA tournament – are precisely what this team must master in the 2013-2014 campaign.
Alabama should be an NCAA tournament team next season. The lessons learned in this game could give the Tide the motivation and hunger they will need for a very crucial campaign… for the program, yes, and also for Grant’s coaching career.