With its entire season likely on the line, the Alabama men’s basketball team moved on to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament by defeating Ole Miss in the second round, 62-57.
Junior Tevin Mack led all scorers with 21 points, while senior Donta Hall finished with a game-best 15 rebounds to go along with seven points.
“I'm proud of the way our team fought back, especially in the second half, playing against a well-coached team,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
In addition to advancing in Nashville, the Crimson Tide kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Things won’t get any easier, though. Alabama moves on to face Kentucky on Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. CT tip (SEC Network) and the Wildcats might have a little extra motivation after losing at Coleman Coliseum this season, 77-75.
For a while it didn't look like the matchup would happen, though.
The Crimson Tide came out with the same general lack of energy and that fans have become accustomed to over the past month. Alabama turned over the ball 10 times, leading to 14 points off of turnovers for Ole Miss.
Although the Crimson Tide scored first, with freshman guard Kira Lewis Jr. scoring a layup off of a fast break, Ole Miss tied it up a minute later, and subsequently extended the lead on a 10-0 run.
The Rebels maintained the lead for the rest of the half.
Alabama went into the break trailing 38-24, but looked like a different team in the second half.
”The second half, I just asked them to turn the ball over five times or less,” Johnson said. “We were just throwing the ball all over Nashville today in the first half. But they responded.”
With 16:57 remaining, the Crimson Tide composed itself, going on a 13-0 run started by a pair of 3-pointers by Mack. Alabama took its first lead of the game since the second minute of the first half, 44-43.
After the run, Alabama and Ole Miss went back and forth as the game featured four ties and eight lead changes.
With 1:44 remaining, and with Alabama trailing 57-55, Johnson called time out to make a final push. Lewis scored a layup when time resumed, bringing the game to a 57-57 tie, and forced Ole Miss to call time as well with 1:26 left.
Sophomore guard John Petty Jr. scored on a dunk off of a steal by Lewis, to claim the momentum for good. Ole Miss subsequently dribbled down the court, only to miss two jumpers. The second was rebounded by sophomore forward Galin Smith, forcing the Rebels to foul Smith with 41 seconds remaining.
Smith made his first free throw, but missed the second, making the score 60-57 in favor of the Crimson Tide.
After a missed 3-pointer by Ole Miss, Smith would once again pull through with the rebound. Alabama called its final timeout to make a substitution, inserting junior guard Dazon Ingram, and finish out the final 21 seconds.
When time resumed, Ingram was immediately fouled. He made both free throws to close the scoring, 62-57.
“This team, when their backs are against the wall, they seem to respond in a positive way,” Johnson said. “We're fortunate to get this win tonight.”
Lewis had 13 points and a career-best four steals, while sophomore Galin Smith, making the start in the post, finished with career-best 11 points and seven rebounds.
But Mack had the hot hand, going 8-for-13 form the field and 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
“We inserted Tevin back into the lineup and he responded,” Johnson said. “We went bigger tonight inside and that paid dividends for us.”
Rebounds were also big. Alabama dominated the boards 50-30, including a 17-6 edge on the offensive end. It resulted in a 23-2 lead on second chance points.
The Crimson Tide’s bench also outscored the Rebels' reserves, 29-12.