Top-seeded Alabama regained its midseason form when it made its SEC tournament debut with a 72-49 rout of ninth-seeded Mississippi State on Friday afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
Next the No. 4-ranked Crimson Tide (27-5) will face fourth-seeded Missouri (24-8), which defeated No. 5 seed Tennessee 79-71 on Friday in one semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
Alabama’s level of play slipped down the stretch and it was coming off a 67-61 loss at Texas A&M on March 4 in College Station, Texas.
“We needed to bounce back,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “We’ve bounced back off of losses all year, and we did that again today. The question is can we continue to play like this for the next two days? I thought our guys were focused. They were really into the defensive end, which is what they needed to be.”
The loss to the Aggies was the Tide’s second in the final six regular-season games, a stretch that started with a 68-59 loss at Tennessee on Feb. 15. In between the two losses, Alabama had two overtime wins, a three-point win and just one decisive victory — a 108-59 rout of Georgia on Feb. 18.
But on Friday Alabama looked like the team that rolled to victories in its first 12 SEC games.
The Tide never trailed and made 8 of 20 3-pointers in building a 41-21 halftime lead that featured a 23-6 run.
“I feel like we just have a great group of guys that just want to win, that just are willing to make all the dirty plays on the floor,” said Brandon Miller, who had 18 points and nine rebounds. “It’s all about blue-collar stuff with Alabama basketball.”
SEC co-Sixth Man of the Year Jahvon Quinerly, MVP of Alabama’s SEC tournament title run two years ago, entered the starting lineup and made his first three shots, finishing with 10 points.
D’Moi Hodge scored 26 points and Kobe Brown had 24 points and nine rebounds to lead No. 25 Missouri in its victory against No. 17 Tennessee, the defending SEC tournament champion.
The Tigers finished the game, which featured 15 ties and 13 lead changes, with a 10-2 scoring run during the final 1:45. They shot 60 percent (18 of 30) from the floor in the second half, which included 58.3 percent on 3-pointers (7 of 12).
“We’ve got a huge chip on our shoulder,” Hodge told the SEC Network.
Missouri, which had lost in the last three quarterfinals, advanced to the SEC tournament semifinals for the first time since joining the conference for the 2012-13 season.
“We didn’t achieve our first goal, which was to be regular-season champions,” first-year coach Dennis Gates said. “Although our four seed was great, it was a failure in our program. The next step is to try and win a championship here.”
The Tide beat the Tigers 85-64 on Jan. 21 in Columbia, Mo., as Noah Clowney had 17 points and 14 rebounds and Mark Sears had 17 points and eight rebounds. Brown missed the game because of an ankle injury, ending a streak of 87 consecutive starts.
–Field Level Media