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January 12, 2013TUSCALOOSA | Normally, the University of Alabama would have folded in this situation, but the Crimson Tide men's basketball team found a way to hold on and win a close game against Tennessee, 68-65, Saturday in Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama improves to 9-6 overall, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference, while Tennessee falls to 8-6 and 0-2 in the SEC. The Crimson Tide turned up the defensive pressure late in the game and didn't allow the Volunteers to run any offensive sets.
"My message to the team was, 'At some point you're going to have to stop taking punches and throw some,' " UA coach Anthony Grant said.
Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford threw most of the punches, with 15 points each. Levi Randolph added 12 points and grabbed six rebounds.
All 15 of Releford's points came in the second half, as the junior sparked the Crimson Tide's intensity with transition buckets.
"He's probably one of, if not the best in the country at scoring or getting fouled in transition," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He's very crafty with the basketball."
But the hero was the team's lone senior. Andrew Steele chipped in with 11 points and four steals off the bench, including a 46-second stretch in the second half in which Steele scored six points, had three steals and an assist. Before Steele's onslaught, Alabama trailed 55-54 with 3:41 left. When it was over, the Crimson Tide led 62-55 with 2:55 to play.
"We had a better sense of urgency in the second half," Steele said. "Trevor and I as leaders and being the veteran guys took it upon ourselves to lead our guys through these situations.
"We've seen this before. A lot of our team is young - they may not have seen these situations. We go out there and try to lead by example. They did a good job of following our lead."
After shooting 26.7 percent in the first half, the Crimson Tide bounced back to shoot 23-54 (42.6 percent) from the field, including 6-14 (42.9 percent) behind the 3-point arc. The Crimson Tide forced 16 turnovers and committed just seven.
The game featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes. In the final 4:52, Alabama had four steals, went 8 for 8 from the foul line and outscored the Volunteers 16-10 to clinch the victory.
Jordan McRae led Tennessee with 21 points and added four rebounds. He was the only Volunteer to score in double digits. Tennessee shot 26-55 (47.3 percent) from the field but went 8-16 (50 percent) from the free-throw line.
Despite the win, there are still questions surrounding this Alabama team. The Volunteers outrebounded the Tide 40-25 and scored 30 second-chance points to just 18 for the Crimson Tide. Grant was hesitant to call this a turning point in the season.
"I'm proud of the second half focus, effort, passion and intensity that we played with and the willingness to go out and put our heart out there to try to make it happen," Grant said. "But it's one game, and we're taking it as just that."
Alabama at Mississippi State at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be televised by CSS.