COLUMBIA, S.C. – Through the course of one basketball game, empires rose and fell. Entire overtimes were played, swallowed up and vanished like Atlantis.
There were mighty heroics and occasionally dark comedy. South Carolina’s star Sindarius Thornwell played like a warrior king, while Alabama’s heroes – Riley Norris, Avery Johnson, Jr., and Ar’Mond Davis – were cut from more common cloth.
In every way, it was an epic – and Alabama prevailed.
“This was an SEC Classic game, man,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “You’re going to be watching this game 10 years from now.”
The Crimson Tide lost a big early lead, sidestepped disaster in each of the first three overtimes and finished at the end with a 90-86 win over No. 19 South Carolina. It was Alabama’s first victory over a ranked opponent in a true road game since 2004.
“Aside from winning the NBA championship, that was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” Johnson said.
Alabama (14-9, 7-4 SEC) built a 16-point halftime lead (32-16) against the Gamecocks, who shot an abysmal 10 percent (3 of 30) from the floor, but powered by Thornwell, who had a record-breaking night with 44 points and 21 rebounds, South Carolina battled back. A Thornwell layup tied the game with 13.3 seconds remaining but he missed a free throw chance, Alabama missed a potential game-winning shots and the parade of overtimes began.
UA trailed in every one of the four overtimes, had potential game-winning shots at the end of the first and third overtime, then limped into the fourth overtime without Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key and Jimmie Taylor, all disqualified by fouls.
It was Norris who took over in the final overtime, scoring a game-tying jumper and finally icing the game with four late free throws.
“We needed him,” Johnson said. “We needed everybody.”
Norris finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Avery Johnson Jr. scored a career-high 23 points in 44 minutes and Ar’Mond Davis came off the bench to play 38 minutes, scoring 19 points including two crucial overtime 3-pointers.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever played 44 minutes in multiple games, much less one,” the younger Avery Johnson said after the game.
“I know I never took 21 shots in a game,” his father replied later, repeating the night’s mantra. “We needed them, though.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Johnson added. “For us to come back from a deflating loss in our last game to beat a No. 19 ranked team on the road, that’s huge.
“Hopefully, some people who gave up on us after our last game will come out and give us another chance.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225