Alabama's SEC Tournament run comes to end against KentuckyBy Tyler Waldrep | 03/11/2017 10:29pm
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- The Crimson Tide was chasing history when it walked into Bridgestone Arena on Friday morning -or so it thought.
As it turned out, its past was the one thing it couldn’t escape in Kentucky’s 79-74 victory.
“This is not a funeral. I’m not down on my guys. I absolutely love them and they poured their hearts out,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “There’s no moral victories, but when you looked at both teams tonight we were right there with them under three minutes.”
Alabama freshman Braxton Key was trying to get a shot up from behind the arc before the buzzer when a foul sent him to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game up with 3:30 left to play in the SEC Tournament Semifinal game against the top seeded Wildcats.
The No. 5 seed Crimson Tide had already won two SEC Tournament games for the first time since 2002. Now it was looking to defeat Kentucky in the tournament for the third time in 17 meetings to advance to the program’s first SEC Championship game since 2002.
Key’s first shot from the line bounced off the front end of the rim then the back before it just bounced harmlessly away. The second bounced off the mark to the left before the freshman was able to watch the third one finally fall through hoop.
“The game could have easily been tied or we could have been up by one if a couple of free throws [were good] here and there, maybe a layup that we can make there,” Johnson said. “[There was] one 3 where we were out of position. Make those plays and maybe we are going to the last minute of the game with a one point lead and have an opportunity to win.”
Instead, the Wildcats (28-5, 16-2 SEC) sent the Crimson Tide packing for the second straight season despite finishing 27 of 39 from the line.
The loss was a tough blow for an Alabama program that ultimately finished the day 15 of 20 from the line for an overall 47 of 67 (70.1 percent) finish from the line during its tournament run- a remarkable showing for a team that finished above 70 percent in seven of its 30 regular season games.
The Crimson Tide used a 33-28 advantage on the boards to take 18 more shots than Kentucky, but was unable to overcome struggles beyond the arc (three of 14). In the loss, Alabama’s freshman duo of Dazon Ingram and Key led the team with 17 and 11 points, respectively.
Alabama, the same team that failed to score 60 points in three of its last four games, finished its run in Nashville averaging 71 points per game. An effort that fell just short of giving Alabama three consecutive wins against SEC competition- which is something the program failed to do this season despite winning two in a row four times in SEC play.
“This focus, this mindset that we’ve had the last three days could have very well won us three, four, five more games this year had we matured a little sooner, and we all could go and pick out a game,” Johnson said.
Win some of those- especially a Feb. 11th 9-point loss to the Wildcats in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that saw the Crimson Tide shoot a season-low 34.6 percent from the line (nine of 26)- and Alabama could return home with a reasonable expectation of receiving the program’s first at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2012.
Instead the Crimson Tide likely finds itself competing in the NIT for the third year in a row.
“We took a big leap from last year, but we’re not giving up on this year,” Avery Johnson Jr. said. “But whatever postseason play we’re going to be in, we’re going to try to win the whole thing.”
The program is expected to make another big leap next season. Alabama currently boasts the No. 5 recruiting class in the country according to 247’s composite rankings, and Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens will also be eligible to play next season after sitting out this one according to NCAA transfer rules.
“I will tell you, the guards -- we tried to get the guards they recruited and they beat us on them," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "And they're really good players and the guys that they have coming back, the size, the skill, I think they're going to be really good.”