NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Alabama coach Nate Oats has one request of Crimson Tide fans: Make the short drive to Music City and pack the arena Sunday for the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game.
That came after freshman Brandon Miller scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help fourth-ranked Alabama advance Saturday by beating No. 25 Missouri 72-61.
Alabama (28-5) will play in its 15th tournament championship game against either No. 18 Texas A&M or Vanderbilt on Sunday, looking for an eighth title to add to its regular-season trophy.
In calling people to come to Nashville, Oats recalled how pandemic restrictions limited the number of fans here in 2021 the last time Alabama won both the regular-season title and the tournament title.
“These are not easy to make it to,” Oats said. “We’ve had two tough games to get there. We’ll have a really tough game whoever we end up playing tomorrow. If people ask me who do I want to play, I don’t think that’s a good question because, whoever I want to, doesn’t matter.”
Noah Clowney added 19 points for Alabama, and Charles Bediako had 10.
No. 25 Missouri (24-9) missed a chance to play in its first SEC Tournament championship since joining the league in 2012 and snapped a five-game winning streak that tied its longest in this league.
First-year coach Dennis Gates, who signed a one-year extension Friday, called it a good lesson before the NCAA Tournament.
“There’s no better way than to play an NCAA No. 1 seed the week before the tournament,” Gates said.
D’Moi Hodge led the Tigers with 21 points, DeAndre Gholston added 17 and Nick Carter had 10. Leading scorer Kobe Brown, who had been averaging 16.2 points, was held to six.
The Tigers scored the first six points of the second half for their biggest lead at 35-31. Then Alabama took control with a 16-3 run that Miller, the AP All-SEC player of the year and newcomer of the year, started with a steal for a fast-break layup.
Clowney’s three-point play put Alabama ahead to stay at 40-39 before Miller knocked down back-to-back 3s, the first giving him the Tide’s freshman scoring record. Gurley added a 3, then Bediako’s layup with 8:42 left matched Alabama’s biggest lead of the game at 52-42.
“We feed off them,” Miller said of Saturday’s fan support. “They give us the energy that we need.”
Alabama led 31-29 at halftime after Missouri finished the half on a 13-5 run. Hodge, a senior guard, capped the spurt with an amazing 3-pointer off a cross-court inbound pass from Sean East II, turning in mid-air and knocking down the shot over Clowney’s hand with 1.8 seconds left.
Alabama continues to win and chase a top seeding in the NCAA Tournament despite a season that has been challenging. Former Tide player Darius Miles and another man were indicted earlier this week on capital murder charges for the January shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Harris.
In February, an investigator testified that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun. Police also said that Jaden Bradley also was at the scene. Neither Miller nor Bradley have been charged, and both have been playing – Miller, especially.
Missouri: Came in as the nation’s top team in turnover margin, and the Tigers had a big edge in that against Alabama with only five turnovers compared to 17. Missouri turned that into an 18-4 scoring edge with the best play coming when Brown went to the ground for a steal he fed to Hodge for a dunk with 1:14 left in the first half.
Alabama: Easily dominated on the boards (44-28), but couldn’t convert on the extra chances. The Tide was outscored 8-9 by Missouri on second-chance points. … Miller easily set the program record for points in a freshman season after coming in seven shy of matching Collin Sexton’s mark of 632 in 2017-18.
Both teams struggled to shoot outside the arc early, combining to miss the first 15 3s. Alabama finished 8 of 27 from 3 but hit six of its final seven.
“Alabama was able to get to their sweet spot,” Gates said.
Missouri: Awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding Sunday, still looking for its first league title since winning the Big 12 in 2012 before moving to the SEC.
Alabama: Will try to finish off another SEC double-dip Sunday in the tourney title game.
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