Fri Feb 11 02:30am EST
If Alabama falls a victory or two short of earning an NCAA tournament bid next month, the Tide may point to a blown call in the final seconds of Thursday night's 81-77 loss to Vanderbilt as the reason they're on the wrong side of the bubble.
With his team trailing the 24th-ranked Commodores by two points and less than 10 seconds to go, Alabama forward JaMychal Green drove baseline, absorbed a bump that temporarily knocked him off balance and attempted a game-tying layup.
Referee Tim Higgins whistled the play dead before the shot but not to call an apparent blocking foul. Instead, Higgins ruled Green had stepped on the baseline, a call replays show was incorrect even though the veteran referee was staring down at the Alabama star's foot as he blew his whistle.
Typically stoic Alabama coach Anthony Grant lost his composure on the sideline when the call went against the Tide, gesturing wildly at Higgins and shouting "Where's the foul?" Grant calmed down by the time he began his postgame news conference soon after Vanderbilt sealed the win with two free throws, telling reporters he hadn't seen replays of the call yet.
Grant's restraint is admirable considering the significance of this loss for Alabama's NCAA tournament hopes.
Still leading the SEC West with a 7-2 record even after Thursday's loss, the Tide nonetheless have scarcely any margin for error as a result of a disastrous performance in nonconference play. The Tide lost to the likes of St. Peters, Iowa, Providence and Seton Hall, and failed to notch any victories of note, squandering chances for wins against Purdue and Oklahoma State.
As a result, Alabama's RPI is still hovering around 100 and it likely needs a minimum of 12 SEC wins just to give itself hope of an at-large bid. It would have been a huge step to add a win at Vanderbilt to previous league victories over Tennessee and Kentucky, but the Tide couldn't finish it off.
Follow Jeff Eisenberg on Twitter at @JeffEisenberg