Survive and advance is the name of the game in March, and that is exactly what the Alabama Crimson Tide (21-10) did in their SEC Tournament opener against South Carolina on Thursday afternoon. The Crimson Tide could ill-afford a second loss to the Gamecocks after losing to them on the road in January with South Carolina’s RPI at #193 entering the game.
Coming into this game most experts figured Alabama to be a lock to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of this game, but they certainly didn’t want to leave the committee with a sour last look at the team. Alabama was seriously challenged by the pesky Gamecocks, but held on to a 63-57 win despite a late charge.
The Crimson Tide got off to a good start in this game with some full court presses to disrupt the Gamecocks and force turnovers. Led by their defense, Alabama went into the half with a 37-26 lead. South Carolina cut Alabama’s lead to 43-40, but then the turning point of the game came when Bruce Ellington picked up his fourth foul with 12:43 remaining in the game.
With Ellington on the bench, Alabama immediately went on a 7-0 run to push their lead to 50-40 with 9:16 remaining. But then, the Gamecocks made a run and on the heels of consecutive three pointers by Brenton Williams, South Carolina had tied the game at 51 with 6-minutes left to play. At the final media timeout Alabama held a 53-51 lead with Ellington set to check back in the game. It was gut check time for the Crimson Tide in New Orleans.
The game was very much in doubt and it was freshman Trevor Lacey who stepped up big time for Alabama. First, Lacey drove to the basket and got a layup to put the Tide up 55-51, and then following a nice scoop-layup by Ellington, Lacey hit Alabama’s only three of the game to put the Tide up 58-53 with under a minute to play. For the game, Alabama was just 1/6 from three while South Carolina was 8/24.
Lacey calmly sank a pair of free throws to put ‘Bama back up by 5 after Malik Cooke had cut the lead back to 3. Levi Randolph hit three more foul shots as Alabama went on to the 63-57 victory to advance to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Florida on Friday.
Alabama actually played a decent game shooting 46% from the floor, but just couldn’t hit shots from the outside. Instead of continuing to throw up outside jumpers, Alabama attacked the rim, and that led to 29 free throw attempts for the Crimson Tide. They sank 24 of them for an 83% clip.
Trevor Lacey led the way for Alabama with 15 points in just 18 minutes of action. Lacey’s play in the final three minutes of the game is what ultimately swung the game in Alabama’s favor. JaMychal Green scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds on just four shot attempts. Nick Jacobs also finished in double figures with 10 points.
South Carolina’s ability to hit threes is what kept them in this game, and Alabama’s ability to sink free throws is what won them the game. This win likely keeps Alabama in the 8/9 seed range regardless of what happens against Florida tomorrow afternoon.
The Tide is set to tip off with the Gators with a spot in the SEC Semifinals on the line tomorrow at 2:30 CST.