No. 4 Alabama looks to continue the dominance it displayed all season in the Southeastern Conference when it opens its league tournament against ninth-seeded Mississippi State in the quarterfinals on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.
The top-seeded Crimson Tide (26-5) ended the regular season by winning four of their last five games to claim their second regular-season title in the past three years.
“We’ve had a great year. It’s a new season,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats, whose team is seeking its second SEC tournament title in the past three years. “We’ve gotta get our minds right. We’ve gotta get back to playing well, shooting the ball well, get our energy back right.”
Mississippi State (21-11) took a huge step toward securing an NCAA Tournament berth with a 69-68 overtime win over eighth-seeded Florida in a second-round game on Thursday.
Alabama is led by SEC Player and Freshman of the Year Brandon Miller and Jahvon Quinerly, who was named the league’s Co-Sixth Man of the Year along with Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves.
Miller is the first SEC player to sweep those two awards since Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2011-12. Quinerly is the first Alabama player to win his award.
Miller is the fourth player in the past half-century to top the SEC in scoring as a freshman (19.6 points per game), joining Tennessee’s Bernard King (1975), LSU’s Chris Jackson (1989) and Cameron Thomas (2021).
Quinerly came off the bench to average 7.8 points, 3.7 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game this season for the Crimson Tide.
Mark Sears, who averages 13.3 points per game, was named to the league’s second team, while Charles Bediako, who averages 5.6 rebounds and a team-high 1.6 blocks per game, was named to the All-Defensive Team. Jaden Bradley and Noah Clowney were named to the league’s All-Freshman Team.
After Mississippi State squandered a six-point lead in the final 90 seconds that sent the game against Florida into overtime, Tolu Smith opened the extra session with a three-point play and Cameron Matthews followed with a dunk for a 62-57 lead with 4:01 left.
After Florida used a 7-0 run to take a 68-67 lead on Niels Lane’s layup with 11 seconds left, Smith’s layup with 4.1 seconds left proved to be the difference after Myreon Jones’ 3-pointer clanged off the rim as time expired.
“In the end, we just had to find a way,” Mississippi State first-year coach Chris Jans said. “This is fun. March Madness is here and we’re still in it. We get to play the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament and it will be a heck of a challenge, but we’ll be ready.”
Smith, who averages a team-high 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, had 28 points and 12 rebounds against the Gators, while Shakeel Moore added 13 points and four assists. Dashawn Davis chipped in nine points and eight assists.
The Crimson Tide swept a pair of regular-season meetings from the Bulldogs, winning 78-67 at Mississippi State on Dec. 28. Alabama rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the second half for a 66-63 win on its home court on Jan. 25.
–Field Level Media