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March 8, 2012NEW ORLEANS | Trevor Lacey became a high school basketball legend in the state of Alabama in just this kind of setting: postseason play, a close game, a team in need of someone to make something happen.
In his first collegiate postseason game, Lacey did the same thing.
The University of Alabama freshman from Butler High School in Huntsville scored seven points in the final three minutes of a close game with South Carolina, including the Crimson Tide's only 3-point basket of the game with 57 seconds remaining, as UA (21-10) held off the Gamecocks 63-57 to advance to today's SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Florida.
Alabama led the Gamecocks by as many as 14 points in the first half and was up by 10 points, 50-40, with 10:28 remaining when a flurry of 3-point shooting by South Carolina triggered a game-tying 11-1 run.
Alabama regained a 53-51 lead when South Carolina's Demontrae Harris was called for goaltending on a shot by JaMychal Green with 5:29 to go.
After that, it was Lacey's time to shine.
First, with Alabama clinging to a two-point lead with three minutes to go, and facing a fast-expiring shot clock, he came hard off a ball screen and went to the hoop for a layup that put the Crimson Tide up by four points.
After South Carolina's Bruce Ellington again trimmed the lead to two points with 90 second remaining, it was Lacey again.
"Andrew Steele took on a double team and then found me at the top of the key," Lacey said. "I just had to make them pay for leaving me open."
Even with Lacey's 3-pointer putting the Crimson Tide up by five points, 58-53, with less than a minute left, the drama wasn't quite over. The Gamecocks scored on two Malik Cooke free throws with 43 seconds to go, then stole the ball away from Trevor Releford on the inbounds pass. Cooke's attempt at a tying 3-pointer was no good, and after an Alabama rebound, Lacey hit two more foul shots to ice the game.
"There were a lot of clock situations where plays had to be made, and he made them," Grant said of Lacey, who led the Crimson Tide with 15 points. "Every shot he made was a big shot, a shot we needed. We've had a variety of guys step up this year, but his ability to step up tonight was absolutely huge for us."
Alabama's offensive numbers for the game were unusual, with the Crimson Tide winning despite making just five field goals on the second half (on just 14 shots).
UA did shoot 29 foul shots compared to just six for the Gamecocks, prompting South Carolina coach Darrin Horn, slightly gruff at the end of a tough 10-21 season, to comment that Alabama "is apparently the best defensive team in the country in terms of playing hard and playing physical and not fouling anybody."
Damien Leonard and Brenton Williams each had 13 for the Gamecocks in their season finale.
Alabama, which has not beaten Florida in Grant's three-year tenure, will face the Gators today at 2:30 p.m.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225