February 2, 2013 11:02:53 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Anthony Grant made sure to remind his players that nobody from the University of Alabama had left Memorial Gym victorious in a very long time.
How long? Well, Wimp Sanderson was coaching the last time Alabama beat Vanderbilt University at this old gym back in 1990.
Trevor Lacey helped end that drought by hitting a 3-pointer with 56.8 seconds left that gave Alabama its first lead of the game, and the Crimson Tide went on to edge Vanderbilt 58-54 Saturday afternoon after trailing by as much as 11 in the second half.
"Big road win for us," Grant said. "We all know the history of this series. The University of Alabama's last win here was 1990, and our guys were aware of that. Just really happy for our team, happy for the players that came before these guys and everybody associated with the university to be able to get this win."
It looked like that drought would reach 12 straight until Alabama (14-7, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) rallied despite hitting only one field goal after Andrew Steele's 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 57 seconds left. The Crimson Tide wound up winning for the sixth time in seven games, finishing on an 18-3 run.
Steele, wearing a walking boot on his right foot after aggravating his ankle, said ending the drought took too long. He also plans to hold this win over his older brother Ronald, a former Alabama point guard.
"For us to be able to overcome adversity in that way, you know for other than me and Trevor, nobody had played in this building before, so it was a new environment for most of our team," Steele said. "And the confidence and the mental toughness they showed being able to overcome so much, I couldn't be prouder of them."
Lacey had a game-high 17 points. Steele added 13 points off the bench, and Rodney Cooper had 11. Alabama won with Trevor Releford, the SEC's sixth-leading scorer averaging 15.9 points per game, mostly on the bench down the stretch after hurting his eye in a scramble for a loose ball. Releford was 1 of 7 with four points, and Grant said he would be re-evaluated back home.
Vanderbilt (8-12, 2-6) didn't hit a field goal after Kyle Fuller's 3-pointer with 7:10 left. Kedren Johnson had 15 points and Fuller 13.
The Crimson Tide came in tied with Kentucky for third in the SEC and traveling after edging Arkansas 59-56 in a late game Thursday night. Vanderbilt was well-rested after a 58-57 loss at Tennessee on Tuesday night, and the Commodores outshot Alabama 48.7 percent (19 of 39) to 38 percent (19 of 50) and outrebounded the Tide 31-27.
"We just strung together once again a whole bunch of losing plays and a lot of bad decisions," Johnson said. "Took some questionable shots, and it came back to bite us."
Coach Kevin Stallings said he thought his Commodores were going to win with 7 minutes left, and that's the problem.
"I'm the only one who thinks we're going to win and we're supposed to win," Stallings said. "We have guys that play not to lose. There are too many guys who don't want what goes at the end of the game. They're not ready for it yet apparently. That is disappointing because at this point in your life you should be."
Stallings wasn't happy with the play of his guards, including Johnson, who had the ball stolen from him at one point by Releford for an easy layup when the Vandy guard tried to dribble behind his back coming up against Alabama's press. Now Vandy can count four games lost in SEC play when blowing a lead or failing to make the key play in a tight game.
"I've never had this many that we've given away," Stallings said. "Never."
Vanderbilt was up 51-40 on Fuller's third 3 of the game with 7:10 left. Then Vandy reverted to form and just couldn't close out against an Alabama defense that is the SEC's second-best, allowing 58.5 points per game. The Tide also finished with 12 steals.
"We were supposed to have been doing that the whole game," Lacey said of the Tide's defense.
Lacey tied it at 53 for the first tie of the game with a pair of free throws with 3:29 remaining, and Alabama was 9 of 13 at the line in the final 5:07. Both teams missed chances to score on their next two possessions, including a shot by Nick Jacobs that went in and out for Alabama.
Johnson hit a free throw for Vanderbilt to give the Commodores their last lead with 2:14 to go. Finally, Lacey threw up his fourth 3-point attempt from a couple of steps behind the arc to put Alabama ahead to stay.
Josh Henderson, who had just played his way back into the starting lineup for Vanderbilt, had a layup attempt blocked by Jacobs, and Fuller missed a 3-pointer that was left of the basket. Cooper and Lacey each hit a free throw to clinch the comeback.