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Mykal forgets those misses. A few possessions later he hits his first three, beginning a run of 13 points in 11 minutes that concludes when he steals a pass and breaks away for a two-handed tomahawk jam. Alabama leads 36--29 at halftime. There is hard rain in Taylorsville, 40 miles northwest of Atlanta, and the storm is developing signs of a hook echo, the comma shape that often precedes a tornado.
The second half comes, and Mykal goes cold. He gets called for traveling, shoots an air ball, misses a layup, has the ball slapped away by Hansbrough. With 2:37 left in the game Hansbrough nails a three to give the Bulldogs a 54--52 lead, their first of the second half. Hailstorms in Cobb County show white on the radar.
Gottfried calls timeout with 20.8 seconds on the clock and his team trailing 58--56. It is 9:20 p.m. "Mykal Riley has been absolutely no factor in the second half," says Tim Brando, the Raycom play-by-play man. Mykal catches the ball near the top of the key with about 15 seconds remaining, but his left foot slips. He falls to his knees and hurls a wild pass. A whistle blows. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury makes a wheeling motion with his hands, imploring the refs to call a travel, but they do not. They say Hansbrough kicked the ball, so it goes to Alabama, still down by two, with 13.1 seconds left. It's 9:22, and the storm is spinning toward the Georgia Dome from 12 miles northwest.
On Alabama's next possession forward Richard Hendrix drives for a game-tying layup, but Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado leaps just high enough to tip it away. Bulldogs guard Barry Stewart emerges with the loose ball, and the referees call a foul on Alabama. The storm is six miles away, moving at 35 mph.
Stewart hits the first free throw, giving Mississippi State a 59--56 lead with seven seconds left. Stansbury calls timeout to tell his players that if Stewart misses his second free throw, they must foul before anyone from Alabama can shoot a three.
Stewart steps to the line for a chance to seal the game. His parents have come from Shelbyville, Tenn., to watch him play tonight. His shot bounces out.
Hendrix grabs the ball and throws it to Alabama point guard Brandon Hollinger, who pushes it up the left side of the floor. Four seconds. Three. Two. Stewart follows his instructions. He lunges at Hollinger, trying to foul him, but he only succeeds in knocking the ball out-of-bounds. Stewart will later determine that his two failures near the end of the game helped save his parents' lives.
Gottfried calls timeout. He tells Mykal to run off a baseline screen and catch the inbounds pass and fire away. Mykal is exhausted. Lord, he prays, forgetting his misses, please let me hit this shot. Five hundred miles away Betty and Freddie Riley are watching on their cabinet-style Zenith, which is parked in the living room to the right of a print of Jesus at the Last Supper that plugs into the wall and sends out radiant beams of light. Betty and Freddie are praying too.
Stansbury knows Mykal will get the ball. He tells Hansbrough to foul him as soon as Mykal catches the inbounds pass. A foul before the shot would put Mykal on the line, where he would get no more than two free throws. That would leave Alabama one point short.
The referee gives Alabama forward Demetrius Jemison the ball on the left sideline, just beyond half-court. He sees Mykal coming off the screen and hits him with a pass on the left wing. Mississippi State fans bellow.