GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) It figures a game between Alabama and Clemson would come down to a late interception.
Shannon Hale stole an inbound pass for an uncontested jam with 25.6 seconds left to lift the Crimson Tide to a 51-50 victory on Sunday.
Alabama (6-2) led by 11 points, yet found themselves trailing 50-49 after Donte Grantham’s 3-pointer with 2:16 remaining. But Hale stepped in front of Grantham’s sideline throw for the decisive play between schools competing later this month in the College Football Playoffs.
”That pick six at the end really hurt us,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said.
Retin Obasohan had a career-high 23 points to lead Alabama, surpassing his previous best of 22 set against Charleston Southern in December 2013. Hale finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Hale said Alabama was denying the ball to Clemson’s leading scorer Jaron Blossomgame all night so he anticipated Grantham’s pass going to the Tigers’ junior playmaker. The hardest part for Hale? Making sure he navigated the final three-quarters of the court mistake free for the winning basket.
”It seemed like it took forever,” Hale said with a smile.
Clemson had chances to retake the lead in the final seconds, but Avry Holmes and Blossomgame missed late shots and Alabama held on for its fourth straight victory – all on the road.
Landry Nnoko scored 15 points to lead the Tigers. However, he missed two foul shots with 1:18 left that would’ve extended Clemson’s lead.
”You come in and try and have a team with our men where they don’t make excuses,” Alabama first-year coach Avery Johnson said. ”Being away from home, playing against a running team, playing against a bigger team, playing against a team with more experience. We just try and be a scrappy team.”
These teams hadn’t met in basketball in nearly seven years since the Tigers’ 66-59 victory over the Crimson Tide at Littlejohn Coliseum back in January 2009. And most of the fans attending this one on both sides would tell you they’d be much more excited if these programs matched up for the College Football Playoff title next month – a possibility since both the top-ranked Tigers and No. 2 Alabama play in separate national semifinals on New Year’s Eve.
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, in New York on Saturday night for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, showed up at halftime to thank those on half for their support.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide wrapped up their longest regular-season road trip since 2000-01 against Clemson in Greenville. Alabama went 4-1 in the five games away from home, including victories over then-No. 17 Notre Dame and then-No. 20 Wichita State at the Advocare Invitational in Florida last month.
Clemson: San Francisco transfer Avry Holmes has found his touch from long range after a cold start. The junior has made 17 of his last 30 3-pointers after missing eight of his first 11.
PREPARING FOR THE MOMENT
Retin Obasohan said Alabama prepared for late-game moments like this throughout camp. The practice is paying off. The Crimson Tide’s past four victories have come by a combined nine points and all needed critical plays down the stretch, like Shannon Hale’s steal and dunk, to pull off.
”We practice special situations a lot,” Obasohan said. ”Like I said, it’s funny how coach Johnson can see the future and have us prepare for these situations.”
Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame was held to eight points, 10 fewer than his average. Jordan Roper was just 2 of 11 from the field for six points, four less than he’d been scoring. Donte Grantham was also held below his 11-point a game average, ending with eight points.
Alabama returns home for the first time since Nov. 20 to face Winthrop on Wednesday night.
Clemson takes on Presbyterian on Tuesday night.