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National Invitation Tournament Semifinals Recap - Alabama 62, Colorado 61

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So many of the things that emerge in a college basketball season were on display Tuesday night in the second NIT semifinal at Madison Square Garden in New York. The end result was that a volatile game produced a photo finish.

The last picture inside The World’s Most Famous Arena definitely owned a Crimson-colored tint.

Yes, the Alabama Crimson Tide – left outside the NCAA Tournament candy store because of their poor non-conference body of work – won a neutral-court game in this semifinal proving ground against the Colorado Buffaloes. In a matchup of the two number-one seeds who protected home-court advantage in three subregional games, it was Alabama which managed to win away from home and punch the second ticket to Thursday night’s NIT championship game. Coach Anthony Grant’s Bama boys will face the Wichita State Shockers for the one non-NCAA postseason championship that still contains a certain level of value.

This was an impossible game to predict because its level of flow was nonexistent. College basketball seasons are studies in volatility; long scoring droughts and counter-surges are simply part of the landscape, and this game fit the mold.

Both teams traded 10-0 runs in the first 10 minutes of the game, establishing a template that persisted for the duration of the proceedings. Just when one team seemed to gain a measure of leverage, it briefly lost the plot and ceded control to the other side. Alabama uncorked a 15-2 surge to take a 30-19 lead entering the final few minutes of the first half, but Colorado scored 11 quick points down the stretch to trim the Tide’s lead to 36-30 at halftime. Alabama used a 4-0 mini-run to grab a 40-30 lead early in the second half, but a 15-6 burst by coach Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes made the score 46-45 in favor of the Tide with 12:49 left in regulation. Colorado – usually the team that responded to Bama’s runs – then made a forward push of its own. CU’s ability to shoot the three, extend the Tide’s defense, and run the break enabled the Big 12 representative in this contest to establish a 55-51 lead with 7:20 to go.

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Fortunately for Alabama, one last push was able to be summoned. Forward JaMychal Green, the Tide’s best player, scored on a tip-in shot to put the Southeastern Conference’s West Division champion in front at 58-57 with 3:34 left. Green fouled out with 2:28 to go, but he had given his team a slight edge. Therefore, even though Colorado was able to respond with four points for a 61-60 lead entering the final minute, the Tide were close enough that they needed just one clutch basket.

Trever Releford gave it to them.

The playmaking guard took the ball on the left wing after receiving an inbounds pass with 15 seconds left. Colorado never sealed the baseline and gave Releford a Crimson pathway to the hoop. The freshman from Kansas City kissed the ball off the glass before the helpside defense could arrive in time, and Alabama owned the lead again. When Colorado star Alec Burks missed a long two-point jumper from the top of the key just before the final horn, there wasn’t enough time for the Buffs to gather the rebound. The game ended on the loose-ball scramble, and Alabama had pulled through.

Colorado might have had the bigger NCAA Tournament gripe than Alabama, but the Tide won in head-to-head competition on the court. Now, Anthony Grant’s group will try to chase down a championship in the city that never sleeps.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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