COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Alabama coach Avery Johnson couldn’t help but gush a bit about his team’s drama-filled, four-overtime victory over No. 19 South Carolina.
“We’ll probably be watching this game 10 years from now,” an exhausted Johnson said with a grin across his face.
Riley Norris scored six of his 11 points in the final overtime, including the go-ahead free throws with 56 seconds left, as Alabama finally put away the Gamecocks, 90-86, on Tuesday night.
The Crimson Tide (14-9, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) overcame a career night by Gamecocks star Sindarius Thornwell, who had career bests of 44 points and 21 rebounds. He also made a South Carolina record 25 free throws, a number that surpassed the late, great “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s mark of 21 made free throws in an SEC game.
Thornwell, though, will probably ponder his missed shots – he was 9 of 25 from the field, 1 of 7 from 3 – including a foul shot at regulation’s end that could have had the Gamecocks up 58-57 with 13 seconds left and could have been the difference.
“We had open shots, good shots,” said Thornwell, who topped his previous high of 34 set in a loss to Kentucky last month.
Alabama built a 17-point lead in the first half and a 12-point edge with less than 5 minutes to go, watching the Gamecocks rally to force the extra periods. Johnson said his players didn’t hang their heads, instead digging in to go as long as they had to.
“When you’re in these situations, you want to learn from it,” said Norris, who had 27 points and eight 3-pointers to beat the 15-0 Gamecocks a year ago. “Coach kept us together, kept us focused.”
Norris led Alabama with 14 rebounds.
The Crimson Tide trailed 70-63 with 2:12 left in the second overtime, yet outscored South Carolina 11-4 to tie things once more. It was the Gamecocks who rallied in the final 90 seconds of the third overtime after trailing 82-77.
South Carolina, though, ran out of gas at the end and missed its last eight field goal attempts to fall into a three-way tie for the SEC lead with No. 15 Kentucky and No. 17 Florida.
Avery Johnson Jr. and Ar’Mond Davis had career highs of 23 points and 19 points for Alabama, which beat a ranked SEC opponent on the road for the first time since winning at No. 4 Mississippi State, 77-73, on Feb. 21, 2004.
Both teams had several chances to win.
Johnson’s long 3-pointer with 3 seconds left in regulation bounded away and time ran out during the scramble.
Davis’ jumper from the left side at the end of the first overtime hit the rim.
After Johnson’s 3-pointer put Alabama ahead 74-72, Thornwell tied it up in the second OT.
In the third overtime, Corban Collins’ 3-point attempt from just to the right of the key wouldn’t go for Alabama.
PJ Dozier scored 21 points for South Carolina before fouling out in the final OT.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide came into this one off two losses and celebrated like they had won a championship when the final buzzer sounded. Alabama put themselves in the mix for one of the league’s top seeds come SEC Tournament time.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks finished with the fewest first-half points this year, 16, not reaching their previous low of 21 in a home win over Florida last month. South Carolina missed its last 17 shots of the half and did not have a basket for final 10:23 of the opening half.
LOTS OF SHOTS
Avery Johnson’s son, Avery Jr., played 44 of a possible 60 minutes and took 21 shots after not playing more than 20 minutes and shooting eight or fewer shots in Alabama’s previous four games. “I’ve never taken 21 shots,” the elder Johnson said smiling. “I’m going to talk to my wife. But we needed that from him.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin blamed himself for the loss, certain he drove his players too hard in practice this week after a grueling 77-75 win over Georgia last Saturday. Martin said the evidence of fatigue was in the Gamecocks’ shooting as they finished 23 of 88 (26.1 percent) and 5 of 31 from 3 (16.1 percent).
“When I lay in bed tonight and stare at the ceiling, I’m going to kick myself over and over and over because I knew I practiced them too hard,” Martin said.
Alabama returns home to play No. 15 Kentucky on Saturday.
South Carolina heads to Mississippi State on Saturday night.