NEW YORK ¯ JaMychal Green was on the bench, so there was little question where the ball was going.Freshman point guard Trevor Releford dripped into the clear, found the rim and dropped in the winning layup in Alabama’ 62-61 NIT semifinal win over Colorado. Buffalo leading scorer Alec Burks couldn’t answer with a final jumper setting off a wild celebration among the Crimson Tide faithful in a far from full Madison Square Garden. Announced attendance was 6,082. A championship date with Wichita State is set for 7 p.m. Thursday. The Shockers routed Washington State 75-44 in the first semifinal. It is Alabama’s second crack at an NIT title game after losing to Tulsa 79-60 in the 2001 finals.The final sequence Tuesday followed a game of wild swings in momentum. Alabama led by as many as 11 before Colorado launched a comeback.Colorado appeared to have seized control with Green on the bench with foul trouble. He fouled out with 2:27 left with a game-high 22 points. But Releford was there. The freshman point guard finished with 13¯ none bigger than the final two in the closing moments. He said the winner reminded him of the game-tying points he scored in the SEC quarterfinal win over Georgia. It was all about reading the eyes of Colorado’s Cory Higgins.“(Alabama coach Anthony Grant) told me if he turned his head, just go,” Releford said. “And I saw him turn his head.”It overshadowed the big night for Green who recently decided against leaving Alabama (25-11) early for the NBA. His improved midrange jumper netted two baskets in the first 90 seconds of the second half. Most, though, came in the lane where Alabama outscored Colorado 42-16.All was well for the junior from Montgomery until foul trouble struck early in the second half. Taking just one to halftime, Green racked up three quick ones, going to the bench with four and 12:49 to play.After the Tide fell behind 55-51 with freshman Carl Engstrom in his place, Green returned with 7:09 left. His time on the bench was more than frustrating, Green said.“But my teammates came up to me and coach Grant told me they had my back and they were going to win the game for me,” Green said. “They kept their word.”Burks, who scored a team-high 20, almost nullified Releford’s final layup that capped a 10-4 run after the Buffalos took a 57-52 lead with 6 minutes left.“It was very scary with Burks at the top of the key with the ball with time winding down and one shot for the game,” Alabama forward Chris Hines said. “I was just hoping that we force him into a tough shot. The way the game was going, we’re glad he settled for a jumper and didn’t force the issue on the drive.”Colorado’s comeback also meant taking better control of the ball after halftime. It nearly equaled its season turnover average in the first half. Alabama’s eight steals contributed to the 11 Buffalo giveaways after turning the ball over just 11.6 per game. The Tide never took full advantage, though, since it scored just nine points off the mishandles after scoring 29 off the 19 Miami turnovers in the quarterfinals.Colorado (24-14) committed just five in the second half. Its shooting improved, too. The Buffs awoke from a first-half slumber and a 37.5 shooting perimeter with a renewed stroke from the perimeter. Levi Knutson, a 47.8-percent 3-point shooter, suddenly couldn’t miss in the second half. His three long-range jumpers in a span of 3 minutes, 30 seconds brought Colorado to within two with 13:47 left. In all, Colorado still finished 8-for-25 from 3-point range while Alabama made 2-of-8 while focusing on the interior game.Alabama led by as many as 11 in the first half that saw wild swings of momentum.The Tide struck first scoring 10 straight points, but Colorado responded with a 12-1 run that meant a 17-13 lead for the Big 12 team with 10:23 left.Then the well ran dry and Alabama took full advantage.Managing just one field goal over the next nine minutes, Colorado watched Alabama roll off a 17-2 run to snatch the 30-19 lead.Now, the Tide has a shot at its first NIT title Thursday night.It navigated the first three rounds of the NIT in Coleman Coliseum where wins over Coastal Carolina, New Mexico and Miami by an average of 15.3 points before Tuesday’s thriller.
ALABAMA (25-11)Green 11-16 0-0 22, Mitchell 3-9 1-2 8, Hines 4-6 0-2 8, Releford 5-11 3-7 13, Davis 2-7 0-0 5, Hankerson Jr. 2-4 0-0 4, Engstrom 0-0 0-0 0, Eblen 0-0 0-0 0, Hillman 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 28-56 4-11 62.COLORADO (24-14)Relphorde 1-3 1-2 3, Dufault 1-2 0-0 2, Burks 6-14 7-7 20, Higgins 4-14 3-4 13, Knutson 5-13 0-0 14, Tomlinson 1-1 0-0 3, Sharpe 0-0 0-0 0, Beckley 0-0 0-0 0, Roberson 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 20-50 13-15 61.Halftime—Alabama 36-30. 3-Point Goals—Alabama 2-8 (Davis 1-1, Mitchell 1-3, Releford 0-2, Hankerson Jr. 0-2), Colorado 8-25 (Knutson 4-10, Higgins 2-6, Tomlinson 1-1, Burks 1-5, Dufault 0-1, Relphorde 0-2). Fouled Out—Green. Rebounds—Alabama 33 (Hines 8), Colorado 32 (Burks, Dufault 6). Assists—Alabama 15 (Releford 6), Colorado 14 (Burks, Higgins 4). Total Fouls—Alabama 14, Colorado 12. A—6,082.