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December 22, 2012TUSCALOOSA | If ever the University of Alabama needed to take a break, this seems like a good time.
The Crimson Tide gave Mercer every break it needed to hand Alabama a 66-59 loss Saturday at Coleman Coliseum, and now UA will go on hiatus for the holidays with a head coach who seems to be fed up with the mental makeup of his team.
UA fell to 7-4, losing for the fourth time in its last five games, and did so by blowing a substantial second-half lead and playing sloppy basketball down the stretch.
Mercer scored the game's final seven points, four of them from the free-throw line, while Alabama missed three shots and committed a turnover as the game slipped away in the final 90 seconds.
"As a coach right now it's frustrating to me to watch it and go through these experiences over and over again," Grant said. "Give Mercer credit. Their energy, their togetherness, their toughness, all the things you want to see your team do, their team did to us.
"They were tougher. They were more together. We don't have one excuse. You've got to play the game."
Grant did not make players available for interviews after the game, but he tried to relate his frustrations from a players' perspective.
"As a competitor, as a former athlete, it's hard to understand," he said. "There's an internal pride in performance that you have to have. If you don't have that ... I haven't figured out a way to coach that."
Alabama seemed to be in pretty good shape up 46-35 on a layup and a 3-pointer by Trevor Releford with just over 10 minutes to go, but Mercer rallied and the Crimson Tide went cold. UA scored three points, all from the free throw line, over the next five minutes as the Bears surged to take a 52-49 lead, with guard Travis Smith hitting back-to-back treys to key the run.
"The second half we found a way to make an extra pass and hit some threes," Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. "An amazing, gritty, determined effort by our team."
Alabama responded, with Rodney Cooper scoring off a rebound and Releford adding a fastbreak layup to retake the lead at 53-52 with just under six minutes remaining.
The teams swapped leads until Alabama went ahead 59-58 on Levi Randolph's running shot from the lane with 1:33 to go. It turned out to be the last bucket, and the last points, for UA.
Mercer's Jakob Gollon hit a pair of free throws to put his team back on top, then Langston Hall stole the ball with about a minute to go, setting up a 3-pointer by Gollon to put Mercer up 63-59 with 36 seconds left. Alabama missed its last three shots and Mercer iced the victory with free throws.
The first half was similar, with Alabama pulling out to a 25-13 lead with 3:31 to go and allowing Mercer to cut the advantage to 27-22 at intermission.
"We're up 10 with two minutes to go in the first half and you can just see the mental breakdowns," Grant said. "It's a 40-minute game. It's not one play at the end that was the deciding factor. Let's be real about it. We didn't show up to play for 40 minutes today.
"It's always going to be a 40-minute game, and as a team we struggle to understand that and the players to understand the focus that we've got to play with."
Releford scored 19 points to lead Alabama. Cooper added 17 points and seven rebounds.
Daniel Coursey, Mercer's 6-foot-10 center, scored a career-high 20 points. Smith finished with 17. Mercer improved to 7-6.
Alabama will host Tulane at 5 p.m. next Sunday.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.