Freshman bounces back as Alabama defeats South Carolina to advance to SEC semifinals

Freshman bounces back as Alabama defeats South Carolina to advance to SEC semifinals

Alabama coach Avery Johnson’s plan for Alabama’s showdown with fourth seeded South Carolina was simple.

“I didn’t give them a fire and brimstone speech,” Johnson said. “Rebound or lose.”

His players heard him. The No. 5 seed Crimson Tide grabbed 42 rebounds and held the Gamecocks to a season-low 27 in Alabama’s 64-53 victory.

“You go play Alabama and have a chance to win, you got to have some dog in you,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “We had little puppies out there today.”

On Thursday against Mississippi State, Alabama’s scoring leader (freshman Braxton Key) struggled offensively, but roared back to life against the Gamecocks (22-10, 12-6 SEC). He finished with a game-high 18 points and grabbed seven boards (more than all other players except teammate Bola Olaniyan who finished with 10).

Key finished six of eight from the field, but he wasn’t the only Alabama player to knock down big shots for the Crimson Tide (19-13, 10-8 SEC). Junior Riley Norris knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and scored all 12 of his points in the second half.

“We showed him [Norris] a couple things at halftime, and I thought he forced a couple [in the first half],” Johnson said. “And we told him to just be a little more patient because his teammates are going to find him and he trusted his teammates.”

Norris and his teammates will return to the court on Friday at noon to take on top seed Kentucky (27-5, 16-2 SEC) for a chance to advance to the SEC Championship.

“This means a lot,” senior Jimmie Taylor said. “This my last time here so trying to make this the best run we had.”

Regardless of how the team does on Friday, the Crimson Tide has already accomplished something it hasn’t done in the last decade.

The last time Alabama won two games in the SEC Tournament was in the 2001-02 season when it also defeated South Carolina. The victory also ensured the Crimson Tide will end the season with at least one more win than the program finished with in Johnson’s first year.

“[The NCAA Tournament], that’s what we want that’s our goal,” Collins said. “We gotta touch that tournament man. So we know right now it’s looking like we gotta win it all to do that so we focused one that each and every day.”

If Alabama is going to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive it’s going to have to beat a Kentucky team that won the only regular season meeting between the two teams 67-58.

And unlike last time, the Crimson Tide won’t be able to rely on the support of the crowd.

“I think it’s a home game for them,” Key said. “I mean we watched part of the [Kentucky] game earlier and it’s all blue.”

The Wildcats and Crimson Tide last met in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals last season. Kentucky won that game 85-59.

“I told them whatever happened in the regular season is behind us right now,” Johnson said. “This is a moment in time that if we capitalize on it we can go somewhere.”

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