NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The No. 6 Alabama men's basketball team came back from a 15-point second half deficit and pulled out a narrow 73-68 win over No. 4 seed Tennessee in the 2021 SEC Tournament semifinal inside Bridgestone Arena Saturday.
The win propels the top-seeded Crimson Tide into the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2002. They will be in search of its first SEC tournament title in 30 years (1991).
Trailing a majority of the contest, Alabama gutted out the win by getting big stops and making clutch shots down the stretch to improve to 23-6 overall this season - the most wins since going 23-12 in 2012. Trailing by 15 points, 48-33 with 16:56 left to play, UA went on a 14-0 run over the next 4:51 to cut the deficit to one point with just over 12 minutes remaining.
With the game tied at 61-61 with 4:02 left, guard Keon Ellis capped a 9-2 Alabama run by knocking down a three-pointer to give the Tide the lead for good.
Herbert Jones tied his career-high scoring total with 21 points and collected his fourth double-double as he pulled down a season-best 13 rebounds. Jahvon Quinerly came off the bench to score 19 points which helped the Tide own a big 31-8 advantage in points by the bench.
Coach Nate Oats
"I thought Tennessee really came ready to play. Without (John) Fulkerson, I thought they had a great plan. They came out and played a lot better than us in the first half, shoot, even at the beginning of the second half. I think we got down 15, if that's correct, before we went on the 14-0 run. A lot of respect, a lot of credit goes to Tennessee, how they came out and played.
"I think for us, it was one of those gut-check wins where the guys expect to win. I think it's one of those deals where our guys have changed their attitude. They expect to win. We ended up outrebounding them after we were down eight at one point on the glass. Our defense picked up significantly in the second half. We had multiple guys step up, make big plays.
"Obviously, Herb and JQ with the scoring. You look at a guy like Keon Ellis, with the defense he did on Keon Johnson the second half. I thought it was a combination of a lot of guys stepping up, making big plays. We have to play a lot better on the offensive side. We've got to play a lot better in the first half tomorrow (SEC Championship) or we're going to be in serious trouble.
"We made it to the championship game, now we got to get it together again. We had some pretty good players that struggled today that I think hopefully will get themselves ready to go tomorrow."
- Alabama improved to 6-3 in games decided by six or fewer points (two possessions).
- The Crimson Tide outrebounded the Volunteers, 42-37, and is now 15-0 this season when outrebounding the opposition.
- Alabama advances to the SEC's title game for the first time since 2002 and is looking for its first SEC Tournament championship in 30 years (1991), which would be the seventh overall in program history.
- Jones recorded his team-leading fourth double-double of the season with his career-high tying 21 points and season-best 13 rebounds to go along with team highs of four assists and three steals in 35 minutes of action.
- Alabama, which entered the game as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, forced 19 turnovers and had 10 steals in the contest.
Alabama scored the first bucket of the game, but Tennessee went on a 9-0 run to take the early lead at the first media timeout.
With the Volunteers leading 13-4, the Tide used a 5-0 spurt to shrink the lead to 13-9 at the 14:28 mark. Tennessee built its lead back up to 20-12 before Alabama responded with a 9-3 run to cut the Volunteer lead to 23-21 with 8:36 left to play.
However, Tennessee used a 13-3 run over the next 4:23 to take its largest of the half at 36-24 with 4:23 left in the opening stanza Alabama came right back with a 7-0 run of its own to cut the lead to 36-31, but the Volunteers scored the last four points of the first half to take a 40-31 lead into the locker room.
Tennessee pushed the lead up to 15 before the Tide stormed back with a 14-0 run from 16:42 to 12:05 to shrink the Volunteers lead to 48-47.
The Volunteers built the lead back up to 57-51 lead with 8:47 remaining, but Alabama used a 9-2 run over the next 4:45, capped by Ellis' three-pointer to take a 64-61 lead with 4:02 left to play.
Tennessee hit a three-pointer to cut the Tide lead to 69-68 with 43 seconds to go, but the Tide would knock down 4-of-4 free throws inside the final minute hold on for the win,
Jones led Alabama's come-from-behind charge with 15 points and seven rebounds in the second half.
Alabama will square off against LSU in the 2021 SEC Tournament Championship game, which will be held at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday and televised on ESPN.
The Crimson Tide swept the season series, taking a 105-75 victory in Baton Rouge, La., on Jan. 19 followed by a 78-60 win in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 3