Steele's layup lifts UA
TUSCALOOSA -- Ronald Steele had been in the same situation before, but he seldom has had an easier path to the basket.
The Alabama junior raced past an unsuspecting Jamont Gordon for an uncontested layup with 6.7 seconds left to give 18th-ranked Alabama an 80-79 win over Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
Ben Hansbrough made the second of two free-throw attempts to give the Bulldogs (12-10) a one-point lead with 14.2 seconds left and Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury told his players what to expect in the final seconds.
Ronald Steele wasn't the problem, Stansbury insisted. Richard Hendrix, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds, was.
As Ronald Steele raced past Gordon down the right side of the lane, all of the Bulldogs had their backs to the play, guarding their respective players.
"Coach told us that the ball was going to go to Hendrix inside because they were running things all day in the paint," Bulldog guard Dietric Slater said. "But as usual, Steele took it upon himself to make a big play. We didn't expect that from him because of all his injuries."
Ronald Steele, who has been nursing tendonitis in his right knee and a twisted left ankle all season, showed a burst of speed that caught Gordon -- and everyone else -- by surprise.
"We had our best defender on him," Stansbury said. "Ronald Steele is always the player who steps up and beats you."
The play was open only because Hendrix decided to change Alabama's strategy in the final seconds.
"I was running down the court after I inbounded the ball," Hendrix said, "and I saw (Alabama center) Jermareo (Davidson) was on the left side of the block. Everybody was on the left side of the court. Since Ronald was bringing the ball up the right side of the court, I figured it wouldn't make any sense for me to go over there and get in his way."
Ronald Steele, who had made just two of his previous nine shots in the game, couldn't resist the easy path to the basket.
"I expected to have to force up a tough shot," he said. "The thing that made the play is Richard was playing so well and (Charles Rhodes) was so concerned about not letting him get the ball. I don't even think he saw it he was so concerned about Richard."
After the basket, Gordon raced downcourt until he got to the 3-point line, but his 27 points and nine rebounds made him a marked player.
"They did a good job of keeping Jamont out of the lane," Stansbury said, "and we had to get off a shot."
Gordon flipped the ball back to Barry Stewart, who threw up a 23-foot shot that was short. Rhodes grabbed the ball out of the air but couldn't shovel the ball into the basket before the final horn sounded.
"I got a piece of it," Hendrix said. "I really didn't block it clean, but I guess I got enough of it to keep it from being a putback."
The win allowed Alabama (5-4) to widen its lead in the Southeastern Conference West Division to a full game over idle Ole Miss (4-5) heading into Saturday's matchup with the Rebels in Oxford.
"Everyone in the SEC West feels like the race is so close," Hendrix said. "You can go anywhere and give it your best shot and a win might take you from sixth to second, so everyone's playing their best basketball. We're going to have to step up our play as well."
Alabama (18-5) struggled defensively for much of the game.
Mykal Riley, who had missed seven of his first eight 3-point attempts, nailed a three with 1:08 remaining to trim a five-point deficit to a basket. After a free throw by Rhodes, Riley hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 17 seconds left to tie.