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In one second, Tide turns against Gators

'BAMA 65, UF 64: A layup at the buzzer gives Crimson Tide a share of the SEC title.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was billed as the biggest game of the season in Alabama, complete with a sellout crowd, a bobblehead doll giveaway and two Top 10 teams battling for a Southeastern Conference championship.

It was decided by one second and a desperation pass from a freshman to a sophomore former walk-on.

Trapped on the corner baseline with four seconds left, Alabama guard Earnest Shelton faked his way open, leaped for a shot but instead passed to an open Antoine Pettway, who scored a layup as time expired to give fifth-ranked Alabama a 65-64 win over No. 8 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

Pettway's basket clinched at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship for Alabama (23-5, 11-3), its first since 1987. Hundreds of the 15,316 fans at Coleman Coliseum stormed the floor in celebration.

"I had just run down there and he (Shelton) caught me right on time because I probably would have run out of bounds," said Pettway, who earned a scholarship last summer. "I looked up at the clock and it said zero zero and I said, "Game time. Let's go home, baby.' "

Shelton said he briefly thought of shooting but realized Florida's James White had moved out of position and Pettway was open.

"I drove to the basket, but they picked up my dribble and did a good job denying me," Shelton said. "So I looked and saw there were four seconds left, then I hit him and he knocked it down. When I went up, I can't lie, my first thought was to shoot it. I don't know how he got so wide open."

Trailing 63-62, Florida guard Orien Greene hit a short jumper with 39 seconds left to give the Gators a 64-63 lead. An Alabama turnover with 16 seconds left gave Florida the ball, then White (six points, seven rebounds) was fouled with 16.8 seconds left.

But the freshman missed a one-and-one, setting up Alabama's last-second shot.

"Alabama found a way at the end to win and you've got to give them credit," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought our guys came in and showed great character and great heart. I was really proud of our kids. We did everything to win the game but win the game. ... I thought it was a great college game with two basketball teams going toe to toe. Like I told our guys, it was one second away. We just relaxed and fell asleep for one second, and that cost us the game."

At one point, Florida seemed in command.

The Gators (20-6, 9-5) trailed 34-29 at halftime but opened the second half with a 10-2 run. Florida had one assist in the first half but earned an assist on its first five baskets of the second while Alabama committed four turnovers in the first five minutes.

With 12:04 left, Florida led 53-40.

"Having a 13-point lead, we knew they weren't just going to give up, that they were going to try to fight back," said Florida center Udonis Haslem, who had 11 points and seven rebounds and was 7-of-10 from the free-throw line. "We knew it was going to come down to the wire. Coming down the stretch, it just goes to show you how every second counts."

Every second did. The Gators' Big Three of Haslem, Matt Bonner (18 points, nine rebounds) and Brett Nelson (10 points) spent crucial time on the bench with foul trouble. With nine minutes left, Haslem had three fouls, Nelson and Bonner four each and Alabama was in the bonus. Nelson fouled out with 53 seconds left.

"Foul trouble really hurt us," Donovan said.

With 14 points, forward Erwin Dudley led all Tide scorers and moved to No. 20 on Alabama's all-time list with 1,255. Center Kenny Walker and Shelton added 11 each and Rod Grizzard had 10.

The last time Alabama won an SEC title, coach Mark Gottfried was a senior guard and the Tide defeated Florida by one.

"I was thinking about it last night, and you almost think there's no way it can go our way because it did once before," Gottfried said. "It did not go our way at first in the second half, but it says a lot about their resolve that we were able to come back."

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