GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s the big collapse that people remember but it’s the small collapse that kills you in the end.
The University of Alabama basketball team lost a 21-point first-half lead but saw the game slip away when it couldn’t hold a six-point lead in the final 46 seconds of regulation. The Crimson Tide extended the inevitable agony for two overtime periods but lost their SEC opener 104-98 at Florida.
“It’s very disappointing,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We came out well but we had too many mistakes at the end.”
Alabama led 81-75 when Beetle Bolden hit one of two free throws with 46 seconds to play. The Gators rushed to the other end and scored quickly with Andrew Nembhard, who grew more effective at driving the ball as Alabama lost its inside players to foul trouble, quickly hit a traditional 3-point layup/free throw combination.
John Petty answered with a layup to put Alabama back up by five points but Florida’s Kerry Blacksher, who played most of the final 19 minutes with four fouls, hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds to go.
The Crimson Tide successfully inbounded the ball but Kira Lewis covered up in the backcourt, was trapped and called a time out.
“I didn’t think (Lewis) had to stop,” Oats said. “I told him to turn and go up the floor and we’ll take a layup. We’ll take two free throws. Instead we have to inbound the ball again. It’s something he’ll learn from.”
Forced to inbound the ball in the backcourt, Alabama instead turned it over as Petty overthrew Alex Reese. The Gators’ Noah Locke stole the ball and hit a game-tying layup.
“You just can’t do that,” Oats said. “I’ve got to give them better options.”
Alabama had a chance at the final shot but Lewis missed a 3-point try and the game went to overtime. The Crimson Tide forced a second overtime when Petty hit a 3-pointer that bounced high off the rim and through to tie the game at 92-92 UA never led in the second overtime.
UA (7-6, 0-1 SEC) started fast and led 46-25 with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. But Florida closed the half on a 7-0 run and started the second half on a 9-1 run to erase almost all of that advantage.
“We could have gone in up 23 or 25,” Oats said. “They score seven points and I felt like they took some momentum.”
Petty led Alabama with 19 points. Lewis added 17 but made just seven of 25 shots from the floor.
Nembhard led Florida (9-4, 1-0 SEC) with 25 points while Blacksher added 24 and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Alabama, which is 0-4 against Power Six opposition this season, returns home Wednesday to host Mississippi State.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt