TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In the storybook ending, the shot would have gone in.
His team down three points, the clock headed to zero, Trae Golden rose up over the defender and launched Tennessee's last-gasp hope.
If it wasn't a completely clean look, it wasn't a terrible look either.
Two teams and a Coleman Coliseum crowd watched the basketball arc toward its destination.
In a storybook ending, it would have gone in. With a swish it would have tied the score.
Tennessee and Alabama would have gone to overtime to decide an afternoon's battle that would be much-needed boost for the winner and another kick in the pants for the loser.
For the first time all season and only the second time in the past two, Golden was benched from UT's starting lineup. The junior point guard has been mired in a four-game slump at both ends of the court.
"I just thought it was the best situation for the team and for Trae,'' coach Cuonzo Martin explained. "To get Trae relaxed and get him settled, to get him back to the way we think he's capable of playing.''
That would be a good thing. The sooner the better.
Unfortunately, Saturday wasn't a story in a book. It was real life. Golden's recovery won't be propelled by a clutch shot that saved the day.
"Luckily for us,'' said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, "it missed.''
Alabama escaped with a 68-65 win when Golden's 3-point try rimmed off at the buzzer.
Tennessee has lost three consecutive games, to Memphis, Ole Miss and now the Crimson Tide, and is already falling off the pace in the early stage of the SEC season.
An SEC road game was there for the taking, hanging in the balance, waiting for either one of two damaged teams to find a way to claim it.
Alabama, not far removed from losses to Mercer and Tulane on this same court, found a way.
The Vols were undone by regrettable free-throw shooting — 8 of 16 — and an even more regrettable 16 turnovers in the end.
Three turnovers at the start of the second half allowed the Tide to erase UT's 28-24 lead. Three more at crunch time allowed Alabama to extend a 56-55 lead to 62-55 with 2:55 to play.
The turnovers were symptomatic of Tennessee's biggest issue as the SEC race begins to unfold.
College basketball is ruled by guard play. A brilliant point guard is a treasure, a fact illustrated by Alabama's Trevor Releford in the second half when he scored all 15 of his points and affected the game at both ends of the court.
UT's recent point guard play has been less than brilliant.
Golden, a gifted scorer, isn't a natural point guard. But he's been the Vols' best option since Martin arrived on campus. Tennessee would have had zero chance of beating a terrific Wichita State team in December without an exemplary game by Golden.
But prior to Saturday, Golden was 4-of-26 shooting in the previous four games. His ball-handling decisions and defense weren't any better.
Saturday, Martin turned to Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson to get the ball up the floor against Alabama's pressure. Each had five turnovers. Neither appeared comfortable.
"I did it in high school,'' said McRae, "but playing Alabama is a whole different story.''
Freshman Armani Moore, another of Martin's point-guard projects, played a surprising 21 minutes, chipped in seven unexpected points and did not record a turnover.
But the best-case scenario for Tennessee is to get Golden's mojo working again.
The Vols need his scoring. They need any scoring they can get. An encouraging sign, he produced three baskets in the final five minutes to at least give UT a chance to win.
All told, Golden played 24 minutes and scored eight points.
"I thought he did a solid job out there tonight,'' said Martin.
As the Vols head to Kentucky on Tuesday, "solid" is at least a start back in the right direction.
Even without the game-saving shot.