Alabama capped off what has been a surreal SEC season with a nail-biting victory over LSU to take home the SEC tournament crown. The fireworks started before the game, as both benches met at midcourt for a little jawing back and forth. The Tide had smoked the Tigers in both prior meetings this season, so some extra emotion was inevitable.
Both teams played hard all afternoon, trading blows while showcasing two very different styles. Alabama had four players in double digits and 28 bench points, while the Tigers relied on three key players for 69 of their 79 points and got nothing off the pine. LSU nearly flipped the script on Alabama in this one, as superstar freshman Cameron Thomas made three ridiculously long three pointers in the first ten minutes to erase an early 8-0 Tide lead. To be frank, had those shots not fallen, all of which were from at least 25 feet, we may have seen a repeat of the first two contests between these teams.
Alas, they fell and neither team managed to put any distance on the scoreboard for the rest of the game. After the early barrage from Thomas, it was Trendon Watford and Javonte Smart who kept the Tigers in the game. Watford got to the rim seemingly whenever he wanted, but on the last possession of the game eschewed a drive on Herb Jones for a 23 footer that missed. LSU grabbed the rebound but the put-back rattled out, and that was that.
Yes, after struggling to put easy shots in the basket at times all season, Alabama won the SEC tournament because the opponent missed an open look near the rim. That’s sheer poetry.
Jahvon Quinerly was named tournament MVP, and it was well deserved. What a ride this season has been for that young man. He showed some great effort on defense in the last couple of games to go with some seriously smooth work with the basketball. He is undoubtedly the man who needs to have the ball in his hands whenever the Tide has to have a bucket. He just has a knack for getting to the rim with his extraordinary quickness, and is probably the best finisher on the team.
The other two unlikely heroes from the title game were Juwan Gary and Keon Ellis. Gary couldn’t have come up bigger with seven offensive boards. When you shoot as many threes as Alabama, you have to have cleanup guys, and he excelled in that role in this tournament. With Jordan Bruner’s knees not cooperating, Gary is likely to continue to see extended action, and it is well earned. Keon Ellis started his second straight game and did a little of everything, with 14 points on 75% shooting and 50% from three, 5 rebounds, a block, a steal, and several great defensive plays. Both men were phenomenal.
Herb Jones had another magnificent game with 14 points including a couple of thunderous dunks, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks. He was the best defender and loose ball guy on the floor, as usual. Jaden Shackelford led the scoring with 21, including five big three-pointers. Alabama won this game with superior depth, but the key guys came up big. John Petty played great defense all day but it wasn’t his best on the offensive end. There will undoubtedly be better days ahead for him.
The Tide will go into the NCAA tournament as a likely 2-seed. This championship game highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the squad. On a positive note, Quinerly has grabbed the point guard role, even if he continues to come off the bench. This team is mature, plays with great effort, and when they shoot well can beat anyone. On the flip side, LSU’s big time scorers kind of exposed the one-on-one defense and Alabama doesn’t really have that one guy who has both the size and ability to get to the rim against most any defender. As good as Jones is on defense, Watford had taken him to the basket a few times on the day. He did Alabama a favor by pulling up from deep. Sometimes a superstar scorer will take over a close game, and he very nearly did.
In the end, the Tide won an exciting championship game and are now the only Power Five team in the nation to take home both the regular season and conference title this season. After the game Quinerly said that he has “full faith” that Alabama can win the whole damn thing.
Let’s just go ahead and do that, shall we?