TUSCALOOSA _ It was the equivalent of watching two neighbor kids getting together, only with a lot on the line. Forever on the same side until this moment, they knew each other better than anyone with many of the same quirks and tendencies, the only difference being that one was more seasoned.
Nevertheless, it didn't help when Thursday's night's basketball game at Coleman Coliseum came done to the waning seconds and Anthony Grant's team had a chance to pull off a victory against his close friend and mentor, Billy Donovan. Yet when freshman Tony Mitchell's inbound pass to nowhere with three seconds remaining ended up being swatted away, Florida escaped with a 66-65 victory.
"I have to take the blame for that," a disappointed Grant said after the Crimson Tide's third one-point defeat to a Southeastern Conference opponent. "We had two opportunities to get the ball in bounds. Florida did a good job of putting pressure on the in-bounds pass and unfortunately we weren't able to get it in bounds. That one's on me. We weren't able to come out and do what we needed to do to get the win."
Despite the opponent, it was the second straight tough loss after Saturday's 58-57 defeat at Auburn, and this one obviously hurt. Grant said he "probably" wouldn't be getting much sleep and none of the players made themselves available for interviews.
"I don't like it at all," Donovan said. "It's just not fun. It's hard to shake his hand before the game and obviously after the game it's even harder. When you are with a guy and you share what we shared for 10 years, you see how hard everyone takes losses. Anthony takes them really hard, and their kids played tough. I thought Anthony had a great game plan and his kids were really ready to play.
"It's really a tough thing, but personally I'm happy for him that he is at a great place like this. I think Alabama is a good situation for him. I think he's going to do a great job."
Although coming in many thought of Alabama as Florida Lite, the Tide matched the Gators from the start and led though much of the game. With senior guard Mikhail Torrance making four of his five 3-pointers early en route to a 22-point performance, Alabama had a 34-26 lead with 5:40 remaining in the half. At that point, the Tide was shooting 63.2 percent (12 of 19), and 6 of 9 from 3-point range.
Only it went into one of this season's trademark scoring droughts the rest of the half, with Mitchell's buzzer-beating 3 preserving a 37-33 halftime lead.
A key 8-0 surge by Florida (16-6, 5-3 SEC) came with roughly 13 minutes to go on 3-pointers by guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, and a Walker drive that found its way through the net. From that point on, it was if all 10,845 fans knew the game would come down to the final moments.
Thanks to senior Anthony Brock's clutch steal and layup that drew a foul for a three-point play it did, only Walker made it on a drive with 11 seconds remaining that Alabama couldn't answer.
"I just told him to make a play," Donovan said about Walker, who finished with 16 points. "He knows that the defense dictates what you do in a certain situation. He penetrated and got one of their big men to come out and got the shot off. It was a great shot because even if he misses we had two big guys under the basket that had a chance to get an offensive rebound and put it back."
Rebounds in the second half especially took a toll when the Gators had a 20-10 advantage and tallied a 10-2 edge in second-chance points. Forward Alex Tyus was particularly problematic in recording 19 points and seven rebounds.
"We didn't do a good enough job blocking out," Grant said.
With Walker and Boyton combining to score 31 points, Florida was the first team to shoot 50 percent (27-of-54) against the Tide since Kansas State, and was 7 of 18 (38.9) percent from 3-point range.
The Tide (13-9, 3-5) finished with comparable numbers, 22-of-49 from the field (44.9 percent) and 9 of 21 beyond the arc (42.9 percent). After Torrance, sophomore forward JaMychal Green had 14 points and five rebounds, and Mitchell scored 10.
It still led to an unsatisfying reunion, with none of the family members of either coaching staff celebrating after the final buzzer.
"Whether it's by one or 20, a loss is a loss," Grant said.