Alabama coach Avery Johnson termed it the game of the year in college basketball, while South Carolina senior guard Sindarius Thornwell put together one of the best performances in his school's history.
For a while, it looked as if the contest might go on all night. And that was just fine with Crimson Tide sophomore guard Avery Johnson Jr., who figured he was ready to play six overtimes.
However, a 60 grueling minutes were enough on Tuesday night. Alabama junior forward Riley Norris drained two tiebreaking free throws in the fourth overtime to help the Crimson Tide win the longest game in college basketball this season, a 90-86 upset of No. 19 South Carolina in Southeastern Conference play at Columbia, S.C.
Norris connected on two free throws with 56.1 seconds left to give the Crimson Tide an 88-86 lead, and he added two more with 18.5 seconds remaining. Johnson scored a career-high 23 points, and junior guard Ar'Mond Davis added 19 for Alabama (14-9, 7-4 SEC).
"In all of my years of playing in the NBA and coaching in the NBA and now in college, I've never been a part of anything like this," Avery Johnson said. "What an amazing game -- for both teams."
The Crimson Tide overcame a tremendous performance by Thornwell, who established career bests of 44 points and 21 rebounds for the Gamecocks, who recovered from a 17-point, first-half deficit. Thornwell set a school record by attempting 33 free throws, and his 25 makes were the most by an SEC player since LSU legend Pete Maravich made 30 in 1970.
Thornwell's points were the most by a South Carolina player since Cedrick Hordges also scored 44 back in 1979. He also was the first Gamecock to collect 20 or more rebounds since Emmett Hall hauled down 23 in 1993.
But the effort wasn't good enough for South Carolina (19-5, 9-2) to record its 20th victory.
Sophomore guard PJ Dozier scored 21 points for South Carolina, which shot just 26.1 percent from the field and missed 19 consecutive shots during one 11 1/2-minute stretch. The Gamecocks fell into a three-way tie for first place in the SEC with Florida and Kentucky.
"We had open shots, good shots," Thornwell said. "We'd still let those (teammates) shoot the ball. Hopefully, next time the ball goes in for them."
It was all those clanked shots that helped South Carolina coach Frank Martin pinpoint the reason for the costly setback. And he pointed the finger at himself.
"I'm very disappointed in myself right now," Martin said. "I went home yesterday and I knew I practiced them too much the past two days. I don't think anyone can question the will to win that our kids showed, but we obviously couldn't make an open shot, and that is a result of some guys being a little tired."
Norris' clutch free-throwing shooting in the fourth overtime provided Alabama with a victory after it missed shots in the final seconds of regulation and each of the first three overtimes.
In the third overtime, Alabama opened up a five-point lead before senior guard Justin McKie converted a rebound basket and free throw to pull the Gamecocks with 79-77 with 2:02 left. Davis responded with a 3-pointer to push the Crimson Tide's lead back to five before Dozier hit a 3-pointer and Thornwell knocked down two free throws with 23.2 seconds left to tie it at 82-82.
Alabama had a chance to win, but senior guard Corban Collins missed a 3-pointer just prior to the buzzer.
In the second overtime, Dozier's jumper culminated a 7-0 burst as South Carolina took a 70-63 lead. Alabama answered quickly as Norris converted a three-point play, Davis knocked down a 3-pointer and Johnson's steal and layup gave the Crimson Tide a 71-70 edge with 46.5 seconds to play.
The teams traded baskets before Thornwell drove for the layup that tied the score at 74-74 with 5.5 seconds left before the Crimson Tide came up empty.
In the first overtime, there were only two made field goals -- one by each team. Alabama had the last shot, but Davis missed a 15-footer with one second left.
The Crimson Tide led by 15 early in the second half, but the Gamecocks made a strong charge and pulled within 55-53 on two free throws by Thornwell with 47.9 seconds left in regulation. It was again a two-point edge for Alabama when senior forward Shannon Hale split two free throws with 24.5 seconds left, and Thornwell answered with a driving hoop through the lane to tie the score with 13.3 seconds left but missed the ensuing free throw.
Johnson missed an 18-foot jumper with two seconds left in regulation to send it to the initial overtime. Overall, he drained a career-best five 3-pointers and was thrilled with his team's performance.
"We had a nice players-only meeting last night to get our heads right because we knew this was a big opportunity," Johnson Jr. said. "I just played how the defense played me, and I felt like I could attack and get my teammates involved and do whatever we could. Whether it was four, five or six overtimes, I knew we were going to get the win."
-- Six players fouled out, Alabama freshman G Dazon Ingram, freshman F Braxton Key and senior F Jimmie Taylor, plus South Carolina sophomore G PJ Dozier, freshman F Maik Kotsar and sophomore F Chris Silva.
-- The contest was the longest in South Carolina history. The previous long game was a triple-overtime affair against The Citadel on Dec. 19, 1980.
-- Alabama played one previous four-overtime game, against LSU on Feb. 12, 1972.
-- The Gamecocks entered the contest as the national leader in 3-point percentage defense (26.3 percent), and Alabama shot 29.6 percent (8 of 27) from long range.
-- G Avery Johnson Jr., the son of the Alabama coach and former NBA player and coach, averaged just 4.4 points on 9-of-33 shooting over the previous five games.
-- South Carolina shot 3 of 30 shooting in the first half and trailed 32-16 at the break.
-- The Crimson Tide lost seven of their previous eight visits to South Carolina before prevailing Tuesday.