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February 23, 2013BATON ROUGE, La. | Up 10 points with less than three minutes to play, Alabama seemed to have the game under control.
Two minutes, 52 seconds and three overtimes later, the Crimson Tide found itself down by three with just four ticks remaining. Trevor Lacey's 3-point heave from halfcourt banged off the backboard and the rim as the final horn buzzed, finalizing Alabama's 97-94 triple overtime loss to LSU on Saturday afternoon.
"It's a tough loss," Alabama coach Anthony Grant put it simply. "Our mindset coming into the game, we knew it would be a difficult environment. I thought we fought really, really hard."
Alabama (18-9, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) held the advantage in nearly every statistical category through the first 37 minutes of the game, boasting better numbers shooting, rebounding and in the turnover battle. All that went down the drain in the final three minutes.
The Crimson Tide went scoreless for the final 3:36 of regulation, going 0 for 3 from the field and being outrebounded 9-2 during that stretch. Alabama also turned the ball over twice, leaving the door open for the Tigers (16-9, 7-7), who scored the final 10 points in regulation to send it into overtime.
Six of LSU's final 10 points came from the free-throw line, and another bucket was the result of an offensive rebound - two of the Tigers' 17 second-chance points in the contest.
"I thought the game tonight was decided in two areas - rebounding and the free-throw line," Grant said. "LSU made the plays they had to make. We've got to be able to rebound the ball, we've got to be able to do what got us the lead. Unfortunately, that three-minute span probably was the difference."
Alabama had to fight through the final 54 seconds of regulation and all three overtimes without two starters, as both sophomore guard Levi Randolph and junior center Moussa Gueye fouled out.
The Crimson Tide committed 22 fouls in regulation, compared to LSU's 12.
"It's a physical game," Grant said. "I hear everybody asking me questions about the physicality in our league or in college basketball. It was on display today. Obviously, it certainly affects you when you lose guys or have to sit guys because of fouls."
Alabama had victory pried from its hands again in the first overtime after five minutes of back-and-forth blows from each team. Junior guard Trevor Releford, who had the hot hand Saturday, leading all scorers with a career-high 36 points, put up a jumper for the win with 2 seconds remaining.
The shot ricocheted off the rim, and sophomore guard Rodney Cooper tipped in the rebound as the red lights on the backboard flashed. The basket initially was counted but was overturned after a quick review, sending the game into double overtime.
The second overtime was LSU's to lose. The Tigers went up by five less than two minutes into the period, but Alabama answered.
Cooper drained a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to tie the game at 88. LSU held the ball for the final shot, missing a 3 with and pushing the game to a third overtime.
Alabama shot just 2 for 10 from the field in the third overtime. LSU hit both of its two shots in triple overtime and drained four free throws down the stretch.
"What a great college basketball game," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "I thought it was an extremely tough, hard-fought battle out there. I thought both teams did a great job in terms of continuing to fight and playing extremely well. We're very fortunate to come out on top and extremely proud of our kids with the effort that they gave."
Alabama shot just two free throws in all three overtimes combined and sent LSU to the line seven times in the same stretch.
While it was a tough loss for the Crimson Tide, it was bitter sweet for Releford. The junior guard made 14 of his 18 shots and broke the school record for career steals.
"It'd probably be better with a win," Releford said. "It's a good individual accomplishment. I still give some of the credit to my team for having my back out there and allowing me to make plays on the ball."
LSU sophomore forward Johnny O'Bryant III, who recorded 22 points and 11 rebounds in his last contest against Alabama, posted another double-double Saturday, leading the Tigers with 24 points and adding 10 rebounds. Tigers senior guard Charles Carmouche followed with 20 points and 11 boards.
Alabama will have two days to put the tough loss behind it before hosting Auburn on Tuesday in a game Grant assured his team will be ready for.
"It's one game," he said. "They're disciplined. They're back. They're fine. We're fine. This is a tough loss, but we'll bounce back. We'll be ready to go on Tuesday."