TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – There were so many improbabilities that led to the moment that, it may well turn out, saves this season for the Georgia men’s basketball team.
The night before, Cam Forte was running steps as punishment for something, which his head coach Mark Fox didn’t want to specify.
A night later, as Georgia’s season hung in the balance, Forte shouldn’t have even been on the floor at the pivotal moment. And the final play wasn’t drawn up for him, and why should it be for the eighth-leading scorer?
But Forte took the shot, and somehow he made it. And it’s hard to remember a more important one in recent Georgia history.
Georgia pulled out a 66-65 overtime win at Alabama on Saturday night, thanks to Forte’s game-winning shot with 6.8 seconds left. The Bulldogs defended those final seconds well, and got a sorely-needed victory.
“The play wasn’t even really to me,” said Forte, a small forward who came in averaging 3.2 points per game. He got the ball in the corner, looked for teammate J.J. Frazier, then saw no one open.
“I was going to drive left and go for a lay-up, but he got me off so I just swung back,” Forte said. “I had no clue how much time was left.”
How unlikely was Forte to get the ball? Alabama’s Riley Norris referred to Forte as Georgia’s “last resort” on the play.
“And the guy made the shot over me,” Norris said.
“I thought we defended the play well,” said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant, whose team fell to 16-11 and 6-8. “Give their guy credit, he made a heck of a shot.”
It was a critical win for the Bulldogs, who were coming off consecutive home losses to lowly Auburn and South Carolina, which had put their NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy.
This win will go a long way towards putting the Bulldogs (17-9 overall, 8-6 in the SEC) back in good graces. They now have four road wins in the SEC this season, and six overall. More importantly they stemmed the damage of the past week.
“We’re back on track,” Georgia guard Charles Mann said. “We just needed to get one. We’re gonna celebrate this now, then it’s back to work for the next one.”
Mann wasn’t on the court for the final play because he had fouled out. If he hadn’t, Forte wouldn’t have even been on the court.
Forte, a junior, has enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with Fox, who doesn’t like the way Forte practices. That was why he made Forte run the steps at Coleman Coliseum after Friday’s shoot-around. But in the final moment Fox said he had confidence in his player.
“When I saw him take it I said, He’s about to win the game,” Fox said.. “Because he’s just a basketball player. If that was practice he probably would have done something to make me angry. But when the scoreboard is on the kid is terrific. He’s the best teammate
“He hates to practice. We go back and forth a lot. But he certainly made a play for us.”
That shot might prove to save Georgia’s season. It definitely saved a game that the Bulldogs had in hand twice, only to blow it.
Georgia led by nine in the first half, only to let Alabama come back and tie it at halftime. Then the Bulldogs took an eight-point lead with nine minutes left, only to miss free throws (including two front ends of one-and-ones) to let the Crimson Tide back in it.
Obasohan made two 3s down the stretch to lift Alabama, but Georgia re-took the lead on a Marcus Thornton lay-up with 41 seconds left. Then Alabama tied it with a free throw, the second missed, and each team exchanged fruitless possessions to force overtime.
Georgia played overtime without Thornton, its leading scorer and rebounder this season, after he fouled out in the final minute of regulation. Still, the game remained close, with Frazier nearly giving Georgia the lead on a layup, which barely rolled off. Then Obasohan missed a 3, giving Georgia the ball with 25 seconds left, leading to Forte’s fateful shot.
“He’s always trying to make plays. Sometimes, just like the rest of us, we make bad plays,” Gaines said. “But we’re thankful that he made the great play. It was just instinct. He’s good around the basket, and he just made the play that we know he’s capable of making.”
Even after Forte’s shot, the game still wasn’t over. Alabama inbounded the ball and Retin Obasohan drove, throwing up a shot. Georgia’s Yante Maten swatted it out of bounds with 0.8 seconds left.
During a timeout the clock was reset to 1.0 seconds left. The inbounds went to Rodney Cooper, who tried a shot from about 18 feet, with Georgia’s Kenny Gaines leaping in front of him. It was after the buzzer, but missed anyway.
The Bulldogs celebrated, mobbing Forte at midcourt.
“It’s a great feeling but I mean, it’s not about me. It’s about the team and us getting a win,” Forte said. “We’ve been in a slump, we haven’t played a game with everybody back, we don’t have everybody back still. We’ve been up and down, but it feels good for us to get the win more than anything.”