ATHENS — Georgia basketball had Alabama on the ropes in the final minute, down 3 after Toumani Camara split a pair of free throws at the 1:13 mark.
But the Crimson Tide responded like the league champions they are.
Keon Ellis answered the challenge with a 3-point shot and Alabama closed out the game on a 7-0 run in the final minute for an 89-79 win at Stegeman Coliseum.
“At the end of the day it came down to one possession, 82-79, with a minute left and they hit a tough shot,” said UGA point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists.
“It was a defensive game and an intense game, but we weren’t able to execute or get the stop when we needed.”
Alabama beat Georgia 115-82 earlier this season in Tuscaloosa thanks to some red-hot shooting from beyond the 3-point arc (60 percent).
This time, the Bulldogs were ready to dig in on defense and get tough with the Tide.
Georgia (14-11, 7-11 SEC) led by as many as 14 points in the first half. UGA was up 36-30 at halftime over the No. 5-ranked Crimson Tide (21-6, 16-2).
Alabama opened the second half on a 15-2 run to take control while Georgia came out of the locker room ice-cold, just 1-for-5 shooting from the floor and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line.
“That 15-2 run hurt us, but it never felt we wouldn’t come back,” UGA coach Tom Crean said.
“The margin for error, with our lack of size, is tough. And it’s rougher against a team like that, because they make you pay for your mistakes.
Ultimately, Alabama’s size was the difference. The Tide out-rebounded the Bulldogs 45-32, and altered shots to the extent UGA was 9-of-21 on layups and shots at the rim.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs defense pestered the Tide, too, forcing 22 Alabama turnovers.
Free throws were an issue for both teams; Georgia finished 13-23 from the line, the Tide was 13-20.
The Crimson Tide, which won 7 of its final 8 to close the regular season, opens the SEC tournament next Friday as the No. 1 seed after winning its first regular-season title since 2002.
Georgia, picked to finish 13th in the SEC in the preseason, will be the No. 10 seed for the SEC Tournament and will open play at 7 p.m. next Thursday in Nashville against the yet-to-be-determined No. 7 seed.
K.D. Johnson scored 16 points and Toumani Camara had 13 points and a team-high 7 rebounds.
Alabama took its first double-digit lead of the game at the 13:17 mark and was up 8 with 2:05 left on a pair of Jahvon Quinerly (18 points) free throws, before the Bulldogs’ final charge.
Wheeler sparked a 5-0 spurt with a spinning drive to the basket for two of his team-high 18 points, and then Johnson (16 points) got to the rim for another basket.
Camara just missed on scoring at the rim, instead splitting a pair of free throws to make it 82-79 with 1:13 left before Alabama closed it out.
Georgia got off to a strong start, shocking the national television audience by building a 29-15 lead at the 8:03 mark of the first half.
Alabama closed the first half on a 6-0 run to make the game more manageable entering the second half.
The Bulldogs had 14 turnovers in the first half, but they compensated by shooting 52 percent from the field including 4-of-8 from beyond the 3-point line.
Alabama, meanwhile, struggled to get open looks from the field. Georgia’s scramble to challenge shots left the Tide shooting 36 percent in the first half including 2-of-12 on 3-point shots