TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Ronald Steele’s final shot with the game on the line was far from pretty—an awkward leaner even he didn’t think would go in.
Ugly or not, Steele’s off-balance 15-footer as time expired capped No. 10 Alabama’s late rally from an 11-point deficit for a 78-76 victory over Georgia on Saturday.
“We don’t really practice the one-legged, flip-high-in-the-air shot too often,” Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said.
“It was probably the worst shot we could have possibly gotten out of it,” said Steele, whose 3-pointer with 54 seconds left tied it for Alabama (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference).
“It’s not a high-percentage shot,” he added. “I’d be lying if I said I thought it was going to go in.”
Steele moved inside the 3-point line, then heaved the ball toward the basket to complete the Tide’s comeback from a 73-62 deficit over the final 4:35.
Even Alabama players joked that he might have traveled on the play, and Felton headed straight toward the officials afterward.
“That’s what my teammates keep joking about,” said Steele, hobbled all season with tendinitis in his right knee. “I’d have to go back and look at it, but I can’t say.”
It was hardly the only controversial call that hurt Georgia (11-6, 3-2).
Sundiata Gaines’ awkward jumper as the shot clock expired gave Alabama the ball back with 17 seconds left and a last chance to avoid overtime. Georgia’s Takais Brown grabbed the rebound, but official Tom Lopes said he blew the whistle “inadvertently,” believing the ball failed to hit the rim for a shot-clock violation.
Officials watched the replay on TV monitors, and the third angle they looked at “showed the ball nicked the rim,” Lopes said in a statement.
“When we noticed that, the ball becomes dead on my whistle,” he said. “Because no team had possession of the ball at the time of the whistle you go to the possession arrow.”
That meant Alabama’s ball.
Felton said he met with SEC coordinator of men’s basketball officials Gerald Boudreaux, who was at the game, for about 10 minutes afterward.
Asked if he was satisfied by the explanation, Felton responded: “I don’t want to answer that question.” He didn’t offer further comment on the officiating.
The Bulldogs scored the first 15 points and maintained that lead, 50-35 at halftime, before seeing their three-game SEC win streak snapped.
They had pulled off a dramatic comeback of their own in a 67-64 win over Arkansas on Wednesday night, after trailing by seven in the final minutes.
Alonzo Gee led Alabama with 21 points. Mykal Riley had 17 points and Jermareo Davidson 16 for the Tide, which shot 57 percent in the second half. Steele had 13.
“When you find yourself in a hole and you’re down and you’re struggling and somebody else is kind of having their way with you, you could easily shut it down,” Gottfried said. “Our guys never did that. They just kept competing the whole game.
“I know we only led one time, the last second of the game, but we’ll take it. Any way you can get one, you get one and you move on.”
Gaines scored 22 points, made five of six 3-pointers and had six assists for Georgia. Brown had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Mike Mercer scored 15 and Levi Stukes 12.
Georgia managed only one more basket and a free throw after Gaines’ layup made it 73-632the rest of the way. Steele made a 3-pointer to spark an 11-1 run, capped by Brandon Hollinger’s two free throws to make it 74-73 with 1:32 to play.
Gaines dished it inside to Brown for a basket 10 seconds later before Steele brought Alabama back again.
“Toward the end of the game, we started rushing shots, taking quick shots and feeding their momentum,” Gaines said, calling the loss “a big heartbreaker.”
Felton didn’t want the ball in Steele’s hands late, even with a bum knee.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the country,” he said. “He is a big-time, clutch player. I would have liked to have seen us do a better job on not allowing him of all people to have the opportunity to make the plays.”
The Bulldogs was 9-of-15 from 3-point range in the first half and only 1-of-7 after that. Meanwhile, the Tide was 21-of-27 from the free-throw line.
Alabama was coming off a 94-73 loss to Vanderbilt, but rebounded to extend its home winning streak to 17.