- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) With two defenders all over him and the clock ticking down, Earnest Shelton jumped into the air to take what would have been a tough shot.
Then he saw teammate Antoine Pettway alone under the basket.
Shelton fired a pass to Pettway, who laid it off the glass just as the buzzer sounded to give No. 5 Alabama a 65-64 victory over No. 8 Florida yesterday and at least a share of its first Southeastern Conference title in 15 years.
"I looked up at the clock, and it said zero-zero," Pettway said. "It was time to go home."
Well, not quite.
The students stormed the court while fans chanted "SEC," and Pettway and two teammates stood on the scorer's table, with the reserve guard hollering "We're No. 1."
Other students paraded onto the court with a banner proclaiming Alabama "2002 SEC Champions."
The Crimson Tide (23-5, 11-3) trailed by as many as 13 points midway through the second half before rallying to set up the frantic finish.
Erwin Dudley's two free throws with 53 seconds left gave Alabama a 63-62 lead, its first of the half. Orien Greene of the Gators (20-6, 9-5) answered with a jumper 13 seconds later.
Florida's James White missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 16 seconds left after teammate Matt Bonner had stripped Kenny Walker of the ball.
Maurice Williams rebounded White's miss and dribbled up the court, dishing off to Shelton. The freshman appeared trapped in the corner by two Gators with about three seconds left, but he managed to get the ball to the wide-open Pettway.
"I went up to take the shot, but Pettway was so wide open and he knocked it down," Shelton said. "I don't know how he got so wide open."
Bonner, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, said he came within "2 or 3 inches" of deflecting Shelton's final pass.
"We loaded the ball and they went to Shelton, and we trapped him on the sidelines," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "If we take away that last cut [from Pettway], they're probably going to throw up a prayer.
"We had a breakdown for one second, and that one second cost us."
The Tide also clinched their last SEC title on a thriller against the Gators. In 1987, when coach Mark Gottfried was a senior guard, Alabama claimed the crown with an 86-85 win in overtime.
"Somebody asked me if I was thinking about 1987," Gottfried said. "I was thinking about Earnest Shelton passing the ball, that's all I was thinking about. I'm just glad to be back here and be part of it."
It was the first matchup of top 10 teams at Coleman Coliseum since fifth-ranked Alabama beat No. 3 Kentucky 74-67 on Jan. 8, 1983.
"It's a great thing, but we've still got other things we want to accomplish," said Dudley, who had 14 points and nine rebounds.
Pettway scored all eight of his points in the second half, the others coming on 3-pointers.
Both teams played the final minutes with their stars in serious foul trouble.
Florida's Brett Nelson and Bonner picked up their fourth fouls, and Udonis Haslem got his third in a two-minute span midway through the second half.
Dudley and Rod Grizzard both wound up with four fouls.
"That was the most physical game we've been in all year long," Gottfried said. "They're the best team we've played."
He is only the third person to win an SEC title as both a player and a coach, joining C.M. Newton (Alabama and Kentucky) and Joe B. Hall (Kentucky).
Walker and Shelton each had 11 points for the Tide, and Grizzard finished with 10.
Haslem had 11 points but committed five turnovers. Nelson, who fouled out with 53 seconds left, scored 10 points.
The Tide, who have won 18 straight at home and 35 of 36, shot 47 percent from the field to nearly double their percentage in Wednesday's loss to Arkansas. They are 6-0 after losses this season.
The Gators shot 50 percent from the field but had 19 turnovers.
"The fact of the matter is the season doesn't end because we lost today," Bonner said. "We've got to learn from our experience."

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