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February 2, 2013

Alabama fights back for rare win at Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE | Seemingly doomed to repeat history,the University of Alabama men's basketball team decided instead to make history instead.

The Crimson Tide trailed Vanderbilt by 11 points with just over seven minutes remaining but instead of accepting yet another road loss in Nashville, UA rallied to end 23 years of futility and defeat the Commodores 58-54.

Alabama's last win over the Commodores was almost exactly 23 years ago, on Feb. 3, 1990, but for the first time since the George Bush administration - that's the elder Bush - the Crimson Tide made the plays it needed in Memorial Gymnasium.

With point guard Trevor Releford sidelined by a blow to the head, sophomore Trevor Lacey carried the team down the stretch, including the game's biggest shot, a high-arc 3-pointer that gave the Crimson Tide (14-7, 6-2 in Southeastern Conference) its first lead, 56-54, with 56.8 seconds remaining.

"In the timeout, Coach drew up a gate play, a double screen," Lacey said. "Their man didn't come off the screen so it was open for me."

"We wanted to see if we could get (Lacey) open at the top," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "The name of the game is to get your best guys open for shots. He's got a knack, no matter what his percentages are, of making big shots when you need them."

Vanderbilt's Kyle Fuller missed a short shot that could have tied the game with 26 seconds remaining, then Vandy's John Henderson fouled Rodney Cooper on the rebound. Cooper made one free throw, leaving Vanderbilt with a chance to tie the game.

But the Commodores hurried a 3-point attempt with 14 seconds left and Lacey added a free throw to give Alabama a more secure four-point lead and its eventual final margin.

"I thought the fight in the second half, the resiliency was awesome," Grant said. "A lot went wrong for is today but the guys never have up.

"Our last win here was in 1990. Our players were aware of that. It was just a great, great effort by our guys."

"My brother (Ronald) never got a win here, so I can hold that over him," Andrew Steele joked after the game. "My last two trips here were extremely tough, but for us to be able to overcome adversity in this way, the confidence and mental toughness my teammates showed to get the win, I couldn't be prouder."

Vanderbilt (8-12, 2-6 SEC) led 51-40 at the 7:08 mark after a Kyle Fuller 3-pointer, but did not make another field goal and seemed bothered by Alabama's pressure.

"We just put together a whole bunch of losing plays at the end," said Vanderbilt guard Kedren Johnson. "We made some questionable decisions.

Lacey led Alabama with 17 points while Steele added 13.

Releford sustained an injury to his eye, according to Grant.

"He got hit on a rebound and had a contusion, some blurred vision," Grant said. "We held him out as a precaution. Hopefully, he will be OK."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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