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March 26, 2013

Alabama's season again ends on missed shot

TUSCALOOSA | It wasn't déjà vu. The Alabama basketball team was in a different tournament, playing in its own gym instead of on a neutral court. The final shot of the season was harried, but not hopeless as Trevor Releford's heave against Creighton in last season's NCAA tournament proved to be.

Still, the shot - by Trevor Lacey this time - didn't go in, and the season didn't go on, by a 58-57 score.

Tuesday's loss was to Maryland in the quarterfinals of the NIT and it stopped Alabama a game shy of making a trip to New York City. The Terrapins will make that trip instead, while Alabama finishes its year with a 23-13 record.

Alabama did not go without a fight. The Crimson Tide trailed 57-49 with 3:26 to play after stinging back-to-back 3-pointers by Maryland's Jake Layman.

But UA held Maryland to a single free throw down the stretch, and when 7-foot-2 center Alex Len missed a pair of free throws with 27 seconds to play, Alabama, trailing by a point, had a final shot - actually, two final shots - at a win.

UA called timeout with 19 seconds remaining and tried to get the ball to its leading scorer, Trevor Releford, but Maryland defended that option.

"We were looking intially for a shot for Releford up top," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "We wanted to try and get a ball reversal and Coop (Rodney Cooper) felt like he had to be aggressive with a lane to the basket. I thought for a second he was going to get it up on rim, but he needed maybe one more inch."

Without that inch, the towering Len was able to block the shot out of bounds. Alabama's last chance would come with only 3.1 seconds left.

"The last shot was an out-of-bounds play, obviously," Grant said. "Lacey was able to free himself and get a good look, but unfortunately for us it didn't go in."

Lacey also called the 15-foot jumper "a good look."

"It definitely was," he said. "If I shot it again, I would probably make it. Their defender kind of kicked my arm on the way flying by, but I still should have made it."

Alabama was sluggish in the first half, trailing by 31-24 at the break, and fell behind by as many as 10 points before its late rally.

"You look at a one-point game and I'm sure we'll look back and think that there are a lot of things that could have been the difference, but the thing that I won't question is the fight that our guys showed," Grant said. "We gave ourselves a chance, and that's all that you can ask as a coach."

The loss came before a loud crowd of 9,479 and snapped Alabama's 12-game home winning streak.

Len was a major problem for the Crimson Tide, scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking five shots to pace Maryland. Levi Randolph had a strong game, leading Alabama with 15 points.

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

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