NEW YORK (AP) — Alabama is making sure Anthony Grant stays focused on his own team rather than watching his former team’s incredible NCAA tournament run.
JaMychal Green scored 22 points, Trevor Releford scored the go-ahead basket in the closing seconds, and Grant’s top-seeded Crimson Tide withstood a late rally to beat Colorado 62-61 in the NIT semifinals Tuesday night.
Releford finished with 13 points and six assists for the Crimson Tide (25-11), who advanced to play Wichita State on Thursday night for the championship. The Shockers beat Washington State 75-44 in the other semifinal game at Madison Square Garden.
Alabama trailed 61-60 with 12 seconds left when Releford slipped along the baseline and scored the go-ahead basket. After a timeout, Colorado got the ball into the hands of sophomore star Alec Burks, whose off-balanced shot at the buzzer clanked off the rim.
Burks finished with 20 points, Levi Knutson added 14 and Cory Higgins had 13 for the Buffaloes (24-14), who made a run to the Big 12 tournament semifinals before losing to eventual champ Kansas, a late-season charge they thought would get them into the NCAA tournament.
The Crimson Tide likewise would have happily accepted a No. 11 seed to the NCAA tourney over their No. 1 seed in the NIT. Instead, one of the last at-large berths went to Grant’s former team, VCU. The Rams have turned their good fortune into the feel-good story of March, winning a game in the “First Four” and then upsetting their way to the Final Four in Houston.
Grant has been asked as much about the Rams as his Crimson Tide during the NIT, and politely reminded reporters this week that he coaches in Tuscaloosa now.
Still, Grant is proud of the job his former players have done this postseason. Jamie Skeen transferred into his program before Grant left, and scored 26 points in the Rams’ upset of No. 1 seed Kansas. Grant also recruited Bradford Burgess, whose layup in overtime beat Florida State, and Joey Rodriguez, who had 12 points and 11 assists in a third-round upset of Purdue.
The Rams’ success is almost certainly bittersweet for Grant, especially after Alabama was jilted by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
The Crimson Tide’s success in the NIT? Well, that’s simply been sweet.
Their top three scorers will all be back next year, including Green, who surprised Grant recently by saying he’ll return for his senior season. The 6-foot-8 All-SEC forward led the team in scoring and rebounding this season and could have been a first-round NBA draft pick.
Alabama led 36-30 at halftime, after both teams used 10-0 runs in the first 20 minutes in an attempt to take control. The Crimson Tide built the lead to 40-30 on a pair of baskets by Green shortly after the break before Colorado slowly climbed back into it.
Green went to the bench with his fourth foul with 12:19 left, and Colorado pulled ahead 48-47 moments later on a basket by Releford and a free throw by Higgins.
Colorado still led 57-52 with 6:02 left, about the same time that Green finally checked back into the game. He scored a couple minutes later to start an 8-0 run, which Charvez Davis capped with a basket that made it 60-57 with 2:56 remaining.
Green fouled out with 2:27 left, and the Buffaloes pulled back ahead on a pair of free throws by Burks and a basket by Andre Roberson. They just couldn’t get another shot to go, including the final one of the game.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)