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Bulldogs fall in overtime to Tide in quarters of SEC tourney, NCAA bid in doubt

Photo by Dave Martin

Photo by Dave Martin

ATLANTA -- Alabama's players hopped around the court, celebrating like a team that had just earned a trip to the NCAA tournament.

At the very least, the Crimson Tide is still in the running.

Georgia straggled off the court with vacant stares, trying to comprehend how it let a 14-point lead slip away in the final 7 minutes of regulation.

The Bulldogs can only hope their latest meltdown doesn't cost them a trip to the NCAAs.

JaMychal Green scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Alabama to a 65-59 overtime victory over Georgia in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Friday.

"The fight our guys showed was incredible," Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant said. "We were promised one game. We want to be in for the duration."

The Tide (21-10) advanced to face the Kentucky-Mississippi winner in the semifinals Saturday and surely improved its position heading into the selection of the 68-team NCAA field.

Despite a gaudy 12-4 conference record and SEC West title during the regular season, Alabama came into the tournament knowing that one win in Atlanta was an absolute necessity. Maybe even two. The Tide was hampered by a low RPI rating (82nd) and dismal losses early in the season to Seton Hall, Iowa and Saint Peter's.

"Our focus is on the SEC," Grant said.

Georgia (21-11) appeared to have it locked up when Travis Leslie dunked off a lob pass from Gerald Robinson to make it 48-34 with 7:33 remaining. But the Bulldogs have struggled to put teams away all year, and this was the worst collapse yet -- one that could crush their postseason chances.

"Tough loss," coach Mark Fox said. "Really, a tough loss."

Dustin Ware banked in a 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer at the end of regulation, appearing to pull out the win for Georgia. But Fox signaled timeout just before the ball left Ware's hand, wiping out the basket. The Bulldogs didn't come close with a desperation heave, sending the game to overtime.

"I thought it was a clean shot, but then I saw the referee waving it off, so I knew coach called a time out," Ware said.

Fox, of course, would love to have that one back.

"I didn't want to have to go the length of the floor because of their pressure," he said. "The ball went in so, sure, I wish I hadn't called it."

Anyway, Georgia had thrown this game away long before the inopportune timeout.

There were missed free throws, including two straight rim-outs on the front end of 1-and-1s. There were turnovers, such as Robinson fumbling the ball out of bounds on a solo fast break, when Georgia would have been better served slowing things down.

Leslie led Georgia with 24 points, and Trey Thompkins added 19. But no one else was in double figures, and Georgia missed six of its last 11 free throws.

While Green did most of the work on the inside, drawing fouls and getting to the line 14 times, Tony Mitchell hit the biggest basket of the game for Alabama from beyond the arc. Getting open behind a screen, he buried a 3-pointer that gave the Crimson Tide a 62-59 lead with 1:33 remaining.

Georgia didn't score again, twice missing both the initial shot and putbacks from right under the basket, the rim closing up on the Bulldogs.

"They made the plays late," Fox said. "We didn't close the game."

Charvez Davis had 15 points for the Tide and Mitchell chipped in with 10.

Up 53-51, Georgia had a chance for a clinching basket but couldn't even get off a shot. Robinson lost control of the ball, then had to put up a wild 3 to beat the shot clock. All he hit was the support holding up the backboard, giving the ball back to Alabama.

Trevor Releford tied it with a burst into the lane, laying the ball in with his left hand with 4.2 seconds left. Georgia took off the other way and Ware appeared to have won it when his running 3.

The celebration didn't last. Georgia had to inbound with just 0.8 seconds left, not enough time to get off much of a shot. Thompkins put up a turnaround 3 with Green in his face, and the Alabama player appeared to get a hand on the shot, which fell harmlessly to the court.

In OT, the Tide pulled out its second victory over Georgia in less than a week, also beating the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale.

Georgia felt better about its NCAA chances, especially after knocking off Auburn in the opening round. The Bulldogs had a solid RPI (39th) and no embarrassing defeats on their resume.

But this one could be a killer for a team that has made the NCAAs only once since 2002.

"It would be nice to be in the tournament, but that's out of our hands right now," Thompkins said. "We have done everything we can."