- Feb 5, 2014
For the first time in 30 years, Alabama basketball is bringing the SEC tournament trophy back to Tuscaloosa. The top-seeded Crimson Tide secured its first conference tournament title Sunday as it beat No. 3 seed LSU, 80-79, in the championship game.
Less than two weeks after Alabama cut down the nets inside Coleman Coliseum to celebrate its first SEC regular-season title since 2002, head coach Nate Oats and company brought out the scissors again in Nashville, Tenn. as the Tide won its first conference title since 1991.
This marks the first time since 1987 that Alabama was able to accomplish both feats in the same season. The Tide now has seven SEC tournament titles and has been crowned regular-season champions nine times.
“I just want to reiterate how excited I am for our players,” Oats said with what little was left of his voice after the win. “They deserve it. They’ve played the right way. They’ve bought into what we’ve tried to get them to do.”
Added senior guard John Petty Jr.: “It’s kind of an indescribable feeling. Just everything personally that we’ve been through. Especially me and Herb [Jones] being here four years. All the ups and downs, all the adversity that we went through. Just to see us stay the course, continue working hard and win this, it feels amazing.”
Sunday’s victory will go down as one of the classics in Crimson Tide history.
SEC player of the year Herbert Jones once again played hero for Alabama in the closing minutes. The senior forward provided the go-ahead layup to put the Tide up 80-79 with 19.8 seconds remaining. He then got a fingertip on a 3-point attempt from LSU’s Trendon Watford with 3.2 seconds remaining. LSU forward Aundre Hyatt was able to corral Watford’s missed shot for a last-second put-back attempt. However, his shot bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded to clinch the victory for Alabama.
“That’s what I dream of, getting a stop, winning a championship,” Jones said of his block against Watford. “They threw the ball to him, and it was almost like an iso. I take pride in my defense, and I loved it. I came up with the stop and won the game.”
No. 6 Alabama (24-6) will learn its seeding in the NCAA tournament later Sunday as this year’s bracket is set to be revealed at 5 p.m. CT on CBS. Alabama is widely projected to receive a No. 2 seed from the selection committee. If that’s the case, it will tie the Tide’s highest-ever seeding reached in both the 2002 and 1987 seasons.
“To be honest with you, I’m just happy we don’t have to worry about watching the selection show,” Jones said with a laugh. “In my three years here, we had to watch the selection show. Now that we won the SEC championship, we really don’t have to watch it. I really don’t care what seeding we get. I’m glad we get to play in the tournament.”
Sunday’s game provided a heavy dose of March Madness. Heading into the matchup, LSU forward Darius Days said the matchup was going to be a “heavyweight fight.” The metaphor played out in pregame warmups as the two teams were involved in a tussle at half court. From there, Alabama and LSU went on to trade punches for the next 40 minutes.
After the Tide started the game on an 8-0 run, LSU answered right back to take the lead five minutes later. Both teams were streaky from the floor as the game went back and forth for much of the first half. Following a slow start to the game, Alabama point guard once again provided a spark from the bench late in the second half, spurring on a 7-0 run to help the Tide take a 40-37 advantage heading into the break.
Neither team led by more than six points in the second half as they went back and forth in a game throughout the period.
Down by two, LSU’s Javonte Smart hit a 3 from the top of the arc to put the Tigers up 77-76 with 1:16 remaining. The two teams then exchanged leads three times in the final minute as Alabama guard Jaden Shackelford's go-head jumper was followed by a layup from Watford before Jones’ deciding drive ended the scoring.
Jones recorded his second straight double-double, tallying 13 points and 11 rebounds to go with six assists. Alabama was led by Shackelford, who scored 21 points to go with five rebounds and four assists while hitting five 3s.
Making his second start replacing injured Joshua Primo, Keon Ellis chipped in 14 points and five rebounds on 6 of 8 shooting for the Tide. Jahvon Quinerly continued to provide a spark off the bench, scoring 14 points to record his 12th straight game in double figures.
Following the game, Quinerly was named the MVP of the tournament. He and Jones were named to the all-tournament team.
“It means a lot,” Quinerly said of the MVP honor. “I’ve been through a lot these last couple years, so being blessed to be named the MVP of the tournament, it’s just a blessing. And I’m just so happy my family got to watch. All credit to my teammates. Without them, I wouldn’t have really won it. So the confidence that they put in me, we just all believe in each other. It’s just a great group of guys. The feeling, I can’t really explain it, but it’s an amazing feeling.”
LSU was led by a trio of Watford, Smart and Cameron Thomas, who combined to score all but 10 of their points on the afternoon. Watford had a game-high 30 points to go with eight rebounds. Smart scored 21 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists while Thomas had 18 points.
While LSU’s starters caught fire, its backups didn’t provide much relief as Alabama held a 28-0 advantage in bench points. The Tide also won the battle on the boards, outrebounding the Tigers 50-43.
Alabama’s win marked its third victory over LSU this season. The Tide swept the Tigers in the regular season, coming away with a 105-75 win in Baton Rouge, La. before securing a 78-60 win in Tuscaloosa.
Oats said Alabama plans to travel to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament following Sunday night’s selection show. From there, the team will have to isolate in its rooms for a day before beginning practice on Tuesday.