Sports, Thrill of Victory

A stunning Thursday in the SEC Tournament

If you like drama, you would have loved to be at the Bridgestone Arena on Thursday for the Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. Chris Lee catches you up on what you may have missed.

WHAT HAPPENED THURSDAY

Alabama was the only lower seed not to win today at the SEC Tournament, as Florida escaped with a 69-61 win.

Alabama was the only lower seed not to win today at the SEC Tournament, as Florida escaped with a 69-61 win. PHOTO COURTESY ALABAMA ATHLETICS

Florida 69, Alabama 61

Maybe that suspension a few weeks ago was just what Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith needed. The junior poured in 23 points and added 11 rebounds, and the Gators turned the ball over just six times. Alabama’s Levi Randolph added 15 and four assists, and forward Jimmie Taylor (15 points) had a nice game, but it wasn’t enough to overcome depth issues brought on by the loss of two starters.

Auburn 66, Texas A&M 59

Auburn, having won its first-round game not even 24 hours ago, battled from 10 down at the half to take control of the game midway through the second period, upsetting the Aggies in an outcome that’s the tournament’s biggest surprise so far. Guard K.T. Harrell has been the focus of most team’s defenses and was again today—A&M’s Alex Caruso and Alex Robinson each took turns—but the senior managed 25 points on just 11 shots, anyway. A&M struggled with its offense in a big way, connecting on just seven second-half field goals, a number of those coming after the game had essentially been decided; losing leading scorer Danuel House (foot injury) really killed the Aggies today.

Tennessee 67, Vanderbilt 61

Riley LaChance and the Commodores couldn't hold off Tennessee who finished the game on a 20-2 run, to win 67-61.

Riley LaChance and the Commodores couldn’t hold off Tennessee who finished the game on a 20-2 run, to win 67-61. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

With about seven minutes left, Vanderbilt led by a dozen points. Tennessee’s post trio of Armani Moore, Willie Carmichael and Derek Reese each had four fouls because the Vols couldn’t guard Damian Jones, and between that and Vandy’s lethal combination of 3-point shooters, the Commodores practically had this one in the bag… until they didn’t. A flurry of Vanderbilt turnovers and missed shots, combined with Tennessee guards Josh Richardson (a game-high 22 points) and Robert Hubbs (16) taking the ball to the hoop, where the Commodores were unable to stop either, helped UT end the game on a 20-2 run, giving UT a 2-1 series win over its archival this year.

South Carolina 60, Ole Miss 58

It may have been the most improbable 2.9 seconds of basketball in SEC Tournament history.

Ole Miss’s Stefan Moody, his team trailing by three as the clock ran down, scrambled to get a shot in the Rebels’ half-court offense as Carolina aggressively guarded the perimeter. But the Gamecocks, in their haste to over-play and double-team the ball, left Jarvis Summers uncontested in the left corner, where Moody found him. Carolina’s Duane Notice realized this a split-second too late; Summers caught, fired, and hit just as Notice fouled him. One free throw later, the Rebels had an improbable lead.

If you think Carolina fans wanted to vomit, consider how Ole Miss fans felt moments later.

Carolina threw a pass into its back court to a sprinting Tyrone Johnson, who caught the ball and headed toward the hoop, well-guarded by two Rebel defenders, with little chance to get off a clean shot.  With the clock about to hit zero, Johnson, still sprinting, collected the ball and heaved, from about 25 feet out, something that could only loosely be termed a shot.

The only way Ole Miss could have lost at this point were if a Rebel player were to foul, which is exactly what LaDarius White did when he got a little too close to Johnson and caught him on the arm just before the buzzer sounded. The whistle blew, Johnson nailed all three foul shots, and when the Rebels couldn’t get off a clean shot with 0.7 seconds left, South Carolina had one of the more improbable wins you’ll ever see.

WHAT IT MEANS

Alabama (17-13) heads home, where it waits to see if it will get an NIT bid. With a 78 RPI according to ESPN.com as of Thursday afternoon, it should stand a chance.

Texas A&M couldn't hold off a hot Auburn team in its first game of the 2015 SEC Tournament.

Texas A&M couldn’t hold off a hot Auburn team in its first game of the 2015 SEC Tournament. PHOTO COURTESY AUBURN ATHLETICS

Texas A&M (20-11), by my reckoning (whatever that’s worth), needed to jump three teams to get into the NCAAs. The Aggies’ big problem is that they had just two wins over teams that are likely heading to the NCAAs (both against LSU) and one of their biggest strengths was the fact they had no losses to teams ranked 100 or worse in the RPI. After losing to the Tigers (RPI: 160), they can no longer brag about the second, nor can they do any more about the first.

The good news for A&M is that it was a terrible day for “bubble” teams—Old Dominion, Texas, Miami and Illinois lost, though UCLA, Indiana and Boise State won—but even a complete collapse by everyone else on the bubble probably wouldn’t save coach Billy Kennedy’s team now.

Ole Miss (20-12) is in the same boat, but in better shape, thanks to an 11-5 record away from Oxford, and wins over Arkansas, Oregon, Cincinnati and A&M, the first two coming on the road. But, it could be a nervous weekend for coach Andy Kennedy. I had UCLA, Boise State and Indiana all behind the Rebels, so their fate may well depend on how well those teams play, and whether or not a team off the bubble steals a bid in a major conference tournament.

Vanderbilt (19-13) will now have a nervous 72 hours or so as it awaits its postseason fate. The Commodores are absolutely an NIT-calber team; the question now is whether VU’s RPI, which will likely be around 90 at evening’s end, will be good enough to get them there.

WHAT’S ON TAP FOR FRIDAY

8) Florida vs. 1) Kentucky: The Big Blue Horde has made its way to Nashville, where it’s already far outnumbered the fans of the 13 other teams combined, and won’t be happy until it leaves with a title. The Gators are playing better with their full complement of players, but Billy Donovan’s club didn’t have the post talent or depth to hang with UK in Lexington (UK won by 17 a weeks ago) and a less-than-24-hour turn-around to play Friday’s game won’t help.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl guided the Tigers to their first SEC Tournament win since 2007 last night, and continued with another knocking off Texas A&M 66-59.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl guided the Tigers to their first SEC Tournament win since 2007 last night, and continued with another knocking off Texas A&M 66-59. PHOTO COURTESY AUBURN ATHLETICS

13) Auburn vs. 4) LSU: LSU would almost certainly be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today,  and a win over Auburn won’t help its cause on Friday. But the Tigers are the anti-A&M with regards to their NCAA Tournament resume, posting bad losses to Mississippi State, Missouri, and—yep—Auburn. Another loss to those Tigers and LSU’s RPI potentially slips into the 50s, perhaps putting it in peril depending on what other bubble teams do. As for those other Tigers, it’s really up to Harrell as to whether he can carry a not-so-talented team on his shoulders for another day.

10) Tennessee vs. 2) Arkansas: It should be a fun match-up of styles between teams who love to press. The Vols are at a huge disadvantage in the paint, where conference Player of the Year Bobby Portis roams for the Razorbacks. But, coach Donnie Tyndall already pulled one upset over UA earlier this year, so don’t count out UT on Friday.

11) South Carolina vs. 3) Georgia: With the bubble teams having a poor day, Georgia should be safe at this point, but note I said “should.” Meanwhile, while it’s a bit of a long-shot, Carolina, with an RPI of 96 heading into tonight, could be playing its way into NIT consideration with a couple more wins.