GREENSBORO, N.C. – Alabama played its style of game Friday against Creighton. The Crimson Tide just didn't finish it.
After missing two crucial free throws with 8.7 seconds left, Creighton guard Josh Jones blocked Trevor Releford's 3-point attempt as the clock expired to give the Bluejays a 58-57 victory in the NCAA tournament.
Releford thought he got fouled on the shot.
"I felt like I got hit, but at the end of the day it's the ref's call," he said. "And you've just got to live with it."
Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant said he felt bad for his team after the game, particularly lone senior JaMychal Green.
"It's obviously a difficult loss for us," Grant said. "I'm really, really proud of the effort our guys gave us tonight and over the course of the year. I think this was a basketball team that grew over the course of the season and it was really, really important for this team I think in our maturation to get to the NCAA tournament and to try to have some success. Today wasn't our day."
Creighton moves on to face North Carolina, the Midwest's top seed, on Sunday.
Doug McDermott had 16 points and 10 rebounds as the eighth-seeded Bluejays overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half and then held on to win despite missing three free throws in the final 32 seconds.
McDermott, the MVP of the Missouri Valley Conference and the nation's third-leading scorer at 23.2 points per game, was held scoreless for more than 14 minutes but then scored nine points down the stretch.
He grabbed a huge rebound with 33 seconds left after teammate Greg Echenique missed the front end of a one-and-one. McDermott was fouled immediately and converted one of two shots to put the Bluejays (29-5) up by three.
Alabama answered with an inside basket from Andrew Steele to cut the lead to 58-57 and Jones missed two free throws on the other end.
Alabama brought the ball up the court, but Creighton used its last foul before the bonus to stop the clock at 4.7 seconds. The Crimson Tide inbounded the ball but then Grant called timeout with 2.4 seconds left after he noticed Creighton had switched to a zone.
"We had a man-to-man play on, so I tried to get a quick timeout to give our guys something to go with," he said.
After the huddle, the Bluejays countered by showing man-to-man but then falling back into a zone. The inbounds pass went to Releford, who got the ball at the top of the key and made a move toward the basket before taking a step back to shoot the 3-pointer.
Jones got a hand in on the shot and the ball fell well short.
Releford sat on the court thinking he'd been fouled, but the call never came.
"I didn't think it was a foul at all," Jones said. "I'm left-handed and I got in his shooting pocket on his right side and got the ball. Anybody would want to sell that shot. Anybody who is trying to get the last shot off — if it's not perfect — they're going to try to sell it. So you saw a good act."
Jones said he felt vindicated after the block.
"I felt like the win and loss was on me," he said. "I felt like I should have put us up by three and we shouldn't have been in that situation. So that was important for me."
Releford led No. 9 seed Alabama (21-12) with 14 points. Trevor Lacey added 13.
The Crimson Tide held Creighton without a field goal over the final 4:55 in the first half and closed with a 10-0 run to take a 30-23 lead into the locker room. Alabama pushed its lead to 11 early in the second half, but Creighton responded with a 12-1 run to pull even.
The Bluejays finally took the lead with 5:38 remaining when McDermott converted on an entry pass to the low post to put his team up 51-50.
The game pitted two teams with contrasting styles as Creighton came in with the seventh-highest scoring offense in the country while Alabama entered with the best defense in the Southeastern Conference.
Creighton shot 54 percent in the second half after shooting just 34 percent in the first half.
"You've got to stick with it," said Echenique, who had 10 points. "It was just a matter of not buying into their game. They press you a lot. They try to speed you up and try to make you do things you normally don't do."